Danny Glover, Communist stooge

Danny Glover

Some of the Hollywood stars whom we’ve written about here – whether because they’ve praised Castro or Maduro or accepted big paychecks to perform for some Third World strongman or another – have done so because they’re underinformed, misguided, or just plain greedy and amoral. But one big showbiz name who has been the subject of our attention is a bona fide admirer of totalitarianism. As we wrote in August 2015, Danny Glover, star of The Color Purple, Witness, and the Lethal Weapon pictures, is an out-and-out enthusiast for Communist dictatorship. He loved Hugo Chávez, whom he met in 2006 and who ended up setting up financing for two politically charged movies Glover planned to produce.

With the late Hugo Chavez

And much as he loved Chávez, he loved Fidel Castro even more. For years Glover has been a frequent visitor to Cuba, where he attends the Havana film festival, attends political-cultural events, accepts awards, and pals around with the tyrants who run the place. He views the Cuban Revolution through a quasi-mystical lens, speaking with religious fervor about its “extraordinary will to find truth and to reveal the new human being, the new man and a new woman.” A few years back he campaigned actively for the release of the “Cuban Five,” a group of spies who were jailed in the U.S. and whom Glover praised as “heroic men.” As we’ve previously noted, Glover became friends with one of the five, Gerardo Hernández, who had been involved in shooting down unarmed planes carrying Cuban exiles, and whom Glover – who had visited Hernández several times in his California prison cell – described as his “spiritual brother.”

With Gerardo Hernandez

During a November 2015 visit to Cuba, Glover was reunited with Hernández, whom President Obama freed in a gesture of friendship toward the Castro regime. While in Cuba, Glover enthused over what he described as the spies’ awareness of “their responsibility to humanity” – and, more broadly, celebrated “the work of the internationalists of this island that brings the light of solidarity to remote places

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

This is the man who, on June 19 of this year, testified before the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in support of a slavery-reparations bill whose main sponsor is Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX).

In the middle of the last century, during the Cold War, members of the American Communist Party, which took orders directly from the Kremlin, were summoned by congressional committees to answer for their loyalty to the totalitarian enemy, which was considered an act of treason. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether it was appropriate for the national legislature to interrogate these Communists. But we have to say that it seems bizarre, to say the least, to invite Communists to Capitol Hill as if they were pillars of wisdom and virtue.

Rep. Steve Cohen

Not that anyone in the hearing room that day would have known from the subcommittee chairman’s introduction of Glover that he is a diehard Communist. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) described him, rather, as an “actor, producer, and an activist for various causes,” not to mention “goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, chairman of the board of Transafrica Forum, an African-American lobbying organization for Africa and the Caribbean, and a friend of Harry Belafonte.” That last bit was plainly meant as a cute touch; in fact the reference to Belafonte served as a useful reminder that he is, in the words of historian Ronald Radosh (whom we quoted here in 2015), an “unreconstructed Stalinist.” So we’re talking about two men one of whom was amiably introduced by the leader of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the other affectionately referred to by that same leader, as if they were twin American icons, but whose politics are downright monstrous. If they were open Nazis, no member of either house of Congress would invite them to testify about anything. But they are both Communists, and, in the eyes of Cohen and his colleagues, apparently, that’s just fine – although it’s best, of course, to keep that little fact under wraps for the purpose of the hearing.

There’s hardly any reason to get into the details of Glover’s brief testimony, aside from observing that he spoke of “democracy” and “equality” and “justice” as if he genuinely believed in these things. Naturally he supports reparations. Whatever. The point is not what he said but that he was invited there to say it. The point is that being a champion of totalitarianism, a buddy and admirer of the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, is no longer viewed in certain respectable inside-the-Beltway circles as disqualifying one as an authority on justice. That, quite simply, is a disgrace.

Angela Davis, Commie stooge

Davis in 2016 with Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Sackler

As we saw on Thursday, Angela Davis, a Black Panther member, fan of the Soviet Union, and two-time Communist Party candidate for President of the U.S. who was acquitted in 1972 of a death-penalty crime of which she was clearly guilty, is now, in the eyes of many on the left, an éminence grise. From time to time she is handed major accolades; three years ago, presenting her with an award intended for women of supreme accomplishment, Elizabeth Sackler, chairman of the Brooklyn Museum, called her “the embodiment of all we hold dear.”

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Next month she was supposed to receive yet another award, this one from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which is based in her native city of Birmingham, Alabama. By giving her the Fred Shuttleworth Human Rights Award, the institute intended to recognize Davis for her support of the Palestinian people. But in the first week of January, the institute’s board announced that it had changed its collective mind. This decision was prominently reported in the New York Times, in which reporter Niraj Chokshi, in his opening paragraph, described Davis as “the activist and scholar” and conveyed the news that Davis herself was “stunned.”

Niraj Chokshi

Why did the folks in Birmingham decide not to give Angela Davis an award? Answer: because she supports a boycott of Israel. The question, of course, really should be why they decided to give her an award in the first place. Given what else is on her résumé, her hatred for Israel and Jews is just one more moral outrage among many. Another question is how the Birmingham group could have been so clueless about Davis’s attitude toward Jews and Israel; a quick Google search would have made it clear that she’s an anti-Semite of the first water. Apparently the answer is that the folks in Birmingham weren’t clueless about her Jew-hatred: they didn’t care about it until local Jews, including the people who run the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, started making a fuss about the planned award.

Angela Davis today

In any event, what was interesting about the Times article was not the tidings about the prize itself but Chokshi’s take on it. For one thing, he identified Davis as a sometime “global hero of the left who has since earned renown for her scholarship.” Later in his article, Chokshi repeated this ridiculous claim: “she has been recognized for her scholarship and activism around feminism and against mass incarceration.” Scholarship? What scholarship? This woman has never been anything but a race hustler, ideological scold, and brazen self-promoter.

Accepting the Lenin Prize in Moscow

In a statement on Facebook, Angela described the revocation of the award as “not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice.” It’s pretty rich for this woman – who should have been executed half a century ago or at least have spent the last half century behind bars – to talk about “justice.”

But Chokshi seemed blissfully ignorant of the facts of Davis’s history. Either that, or he chose not to share those facts with Times readers. Instead he presented the standard whitewash of the story of Davis’s trial, which depicts her as an innocent bystander who was wrongly charged:

Professor Davis became a global progressive leader nearly half a century ago. At the time, she was agitating on behalf of three California inmates accused of murdering a white prison guard when guns she had purchased were used in an attack that was aimed at freeing the inmates but left four people dead, including the assailant.

She was not present during the attack and witnesses testified that the guns were purchased for defense, but Professor Davis nonetheless spent 16 months in jail before an all-white jury acquitted her of all charges. In the interim, “Free Angela” had become a rallying cry.

Note the slick twist here: instead of sharing the facts about Davis’s masterminding of the conspiracy to free her husband – which would have led at least some readers to wonder why she was acquitted and how Davis could possibly be considered a human-rights icon – Chokshi deep-sixed Davis’s central role in the whole business, thereby prodding readers to be outraged that poor Angela had to spend sixteen months in jail and to accept the verdict as legit because the jury was “all-white.”

Chokshi also put a neat spin on Davis’s take on Israel and the Palestinians: at a time, she wrote, when “polls of young people” in the U.S. “show support growing for the Palestinian cause” and when state laws restricting contractors from boycotting Israel “are being challenged as violations of First Amendment rights” (facts that have no place in Chokshi’s article except by way of suggesting that Davis is on the right side of this issue), Davis has “joined prominent black celebrities and thinkers in comparing the struggles of Palestinians to those of African-Americans.”

Cathy Young

What Chokshi neglected to mention is that, as Cathy Young noted in a January 9 piece for the Forward, Davis’s “stance toward Israel…includes the embrace of convicted terrorists Rasmea Odeh and Marwan Barghouti.” Chokshi also ignored Davis’s slavish, see-no-evil defense of the USSR and Cuba, including, as Young pointed out, her consistent refusal to stand up for gays, women, and political prisoners in Communist countries. No, Angela Davis is the furthest thing possible from a human-rights heroine: she is a fervent lifelong enthusiast for totalitarianism, a woman whom lovers of freedom and equality should regard with nothing but contempt.

Angela Davis, human-rights heroine?

Davis in her heyday

In June 2016, when the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art presented Angela Davis with an award for “women who are first in their fields,” we provided readers with a brief account of Ms. Davis’s accomplishments.

To wit: a card-carrying American Communist Party member from her youth, she attended Communist May Day celebrations in East Berlin when it was still East Berlin, joined the Black Panthers, and studied at Humboldt University, also in East Berlin. Later teaching at UCLA, she was fired twice – the first time for her Communist Party membership, the second time (after a judge ordered her rehired) for giving “inflammatory” speeches in which, for example, she called police officers “pigs.” After her then husband, George Jackson, a fellow Communist and Black Panther leader, was sent to Soledad State Prison for pulling off five armed robberies, Davis masterminded an effort to spring him. As we wrote in 2016:

On the lam

On August 7, 1970, Jackson’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, entered a Marin County courtroom in which another punk, James McClain, was on trial for murdering a prison guard. Jonathan brought with him plenty of weapons, which he handed to Clain and to two other convicts who were present in the courtroom as witnesses. Jonathan and the three jailbirds then took hostage the presiding judge, Harold Haley, a father of three, along with the prosecutor and three of the jurors.

Jonathan and the convicts took their hostages out of the courthouse and drove off with them in a van. Jonathan’s goal was to hijack a plane, fly the hostages to Cuba, and exchange them for his brother’s freedom. But he didn’t get that far. At a roadblock, he and his pals got into a shootout with police. Jonathan, Judge Haley, and the two convicts were killed; the prosecutor was paralyzed for life; and a juror was injured. It was soon discovered that some of the guns Jonathan had brought into the courtroom had been purchased by Davis only days earlier. Charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder and placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, Davis took it on the lam; after a few months underground, she was tracked down by cops at a Howard Johnson’s motel in Manhattan.

On trial

Her husband George having died in an escape attempt (in which he cut the throats of three prison guards), Davis was tried for her part in the attempt to spring him. The Kremlin led a worldwide campaign to paint her as mounting a courageous challenge to the capitalist system. Useful idiots like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Despite ample evidence of guilt, Davis was found not guilty. Her acquittal was later compared to that in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, in that both defendants had lawyers who successfully painted them as victims of racism.

With one of her heroes

Now world-famous, Davis spent a few years in Cuba, went to Moscow to accept the Lenin Prize, and twice ran for vice president of the U.S. on the Communist Party line. For many on the left, she served as a feminist icon and a symbol of brave resistance to racist oppression. She has taught at many major universities and is now a “Distinguished Professor Emerita” at the University of California, Santa Cruz. And her distinction has been ratified by awards, including the 2016 honor from the Brooklyn Museum.

She was scheduled to receive yet another accolade next month – namely, the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, which is presented annually by a civil-rights organization in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. But during the first week of January came a shocking announcement: Angela Davis wouldn’t be getting the award after all. What happened? We’ll get to that on Tuesday.

Zinn is winning

zinn3
Howard Zinn

David Greenberg, a professor of history at Rutgers, has vividly captured the impact of Howard Zinn‘s 1980 book A People’s History of the United States on the students who are assigned it as a school textbook. In a 2013 article, Greenberg recalled that when he was in school, he became “enamored” of Zinn’s opus.

In my adolescent rebelliousness, I thrilled to Zinn’s deflation of what he presented as the myths of standard-issue history….Mischievously – subversively – A People’s History whispered that everything I had learned in school was a sugar-coated fairy tale, if not a deliberate lie. Now I knew.

greenberg1
David Greenberg

So it has been with millions of other American students. Zinn’s book was tailor-made to appeal to them – to, that is, low-information adolescents eager to rebel against their parents’ worldview. To be sure, a few of these kids go on to study history and, as Greenberg puts it, “come to realize that Zinn’s famous book is…a pretty lousy piece of work.” But a much larger percentage of students who’ve been brainwashed by Zinn never snap out of it, alas – they never realize the extent to which they’ve been misled. And consequently they grow into adults who truly believe that America has been the greatest blight on the world stage instead of the greatest blessing.

damon
Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting

Earlier this week we looked at Howard Zinn’s intense involvement with the American Communist Party, the details of which were made public just six years ago. What’s striking – if unsurprising – is that these revelations haven’t put a dent in the enthusiasm for his book on the part of “educators” and other fans. Among those fans are the movie stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. They wrote the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting, in which Damon’s character sang Zinn’s praises.

affleck
Ben Affleck

After Zinn’s CPUSA past came to light, William Sullivan noted Damon’s and Affleck’s refusal to denounce Zinn for his Stalinism, and suggested that the only logical reason for this refusal must be “that they believe so fervently in America’s place as the wickedest of nations that they are unable to realize the absolute fact that Communism surpasses even National Socialism as the responsible ideology for more forced famine, death, and political oppression than any other governmental structure in modern history.” Sullivan elaborated:

To believe that Communism, in any form, could be less vile than our American republic is beyond comprehension, but Howard Zinn was guilty of it. And given that practical history screams the contrary of Zinn’s beliefs, one could argue that his followers have not so much been educated by the factual substance of his work, but indoctrinated by the slanted ideas therein.

cohen21
Stephen F. Cohen

We kicked off this week by discussing the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC). A 1995 article in the New York Times reported on the foundation’s plans to construct a museum in memory of the approximately 100 million people killed by Communism during the twentieth century. It is hard to imagine any decent human being criticizing such a project; but our old friend Stephen F. Cohen – the Russia “expert,” Kremlin sympathizer, and spouse of Nation publisher and limousine Marxist Katrina vanden Heuvel – disapproved strongly, telling the Times that the proposed memorial was “triumphalist,” an idea hatched by “cold-war warriors” whose “sermonizing against Communism” betrayed their lack of seriousness.

timessq
The VOC’s Times Square display

That memorial has yet to be built. Meanwhile Howard Zinn’s magnum opus has sold millions of copies and poisoned millions of minds, as exemplified by the VOC’s own reports on young Americans’ ignorance of – and benign attitudes toward – Communism. Clearly, a serious nationwide educational effort is desperately required. The VOC itself has recently taken a small step in this direction, installing billboards in Times Square that seek to set the record straight on Communism. Kudos to them. But it’s only a drop in the bucket. Because Zinn – alarmingly – is winning.

Howard Zinn, Stalinist

zinn1
The young Howard Zinn

In 2003, Howard Zinn was described as “the most influential historian in America.” As of that year, his book A People’s History of the United States was selling 128,000 copies annually; total sales have now topped two million. What a remarkable coup this was for Zinn, whose parents were working-class immigrants from Russia and Ukraine and whose father worked as a fruit peddler and ditch digger. Had Zinn’s parents not emigrated to America, any child of theirs would have grown up as a peasant under Communism. And if that child had grown up to be half as outspoken as Zinn, he’d soon have ended up either in the Gulag or in front of a firing squad. That the son of such a couple could end up as a prominent historian and a wealthy man is a tribute to the reality of the American dream.

zinnbookBut Zinn himself didn’t see it that way. Indeed, perhaps the best way to sum up his life goal is to say that he was out to destroy Americans’ belief in the American dream. For Zinn was a Communist. And he wasn’t just any Communist. He was a very active Communist who belonged to a New York branch of the Party and attended Party meetings five nights a week between around 1949 and 1953.

And that wasn’t all. He taught informal courses in Communism to other Communists. He participated in various Communist front groups, such as the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee and the International Workers Order, and in a number of Communist-infiltrated organizations, such as the American Veterans Committee. Although, as noted, he ceased being active in the Party during the 1950s, his political views remained the same, as evidenced by his enthusiasm for the Castro revolution in Cuba.

castro3
One of Zinn’s heroes

As many observers have noted, the timing of Zinn’s involvement in the Party is interesting. He wasn’t one of those who joined the CPUSA in the 1920s or 30s, when ignorance was still a credible excuse and some of Stalin’s worst atrocities remained in the future. No, he joined up after the Ukraine famine, after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and after the USSR’s postwar occupation of Eastern Europe. By the time he signed up as an agent of the Kremlin, it was clear to any well-informed Westerner that Josef Stalin was a thoroughly evil piece of work, fully on a par with Hitler, and that the people living in the Soviet Union and its satellites were the helpless, terrorized subjects of a monstrous tyranny.

Zinn would later go on to become a prominent academic and a leader of the anti-Vietnam movement. We’ve already written here about his friendly wartime visit to Hanoi with Father Daniel Berrigan, a fellow Communist. But it wasn’t till A People’s History came out in 1980 that Zinn became famous.

We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Josef who?

You may never have heard of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. But if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll probably want to know about it, for it’s an institution that seeks to address a profound need that lies very close to the heart of our own efforts: namely, the extraordinary ignorance of the brutal reality of Communism in today’s America, especially on the part of young people.

Stalin_Joseph
Josef Stalin: only 18% of US millennials know who he was

The extent of that ignorance was underscored on October 17 by the foundation’s own annual report on American attitudes toward socialism and Communism. The executive director of VOC, Mario Smith, summed those findings up as follows: “An emerging generation of Americans have little understanding of the collectivist system and its dark history.” While older generations are aware of the evils of Communism, millennials (born between 1982 and 2002) aren’t. This makes sense, of course. The fall of the Iron Curtain occurred before they were born or when they were small children. They’ve been taught about the evils of Nazism, but little about Communism. They know about the Holocaust, but probably not about the Gulag.

The VOC’s sobering numbers confirm this ignorance. According to the study, only 18% of American millennials can place the name of Josef Stalin; the comparable figures for Lenin and Mao Zedong are 42% and 33%. The inevitable result of this profound ignorance of Communism is a disturbingly benign attitude toward it. While 91% of older Americans and 80% of baby boomers view Communism negatively, only 55% of millennials do. Fully 25% of millennials who recognized the name of Lenin actually view him favorably.

mccarthy1
Joseph McCarthy: the real #1 Cold War villain

This sympathy for Communism surely owes a lot to baby-boom teachers or professors who, when they have touched on Communism, have actually treated it sympathetically. Instead of underscoring the fact that the regimes of Hitler and Stalin were equally totalitarian, many of those supposed educators have drawn sharp distinctions between Nazism and Communism, pronouncing the former as unqualifiedly evil but depicting the latter as a beautiful dream that perhaps got just a wee bit out of control. In recent decades, school syllabi touching on Communism have focused less on the horrors of life in the USSR and more on the purported victimization of American Communists during the era of the Hollywood blacklist. In this formulation, the villain of the piece is not Stalin but Senator Joseph McCarthy.

030114-O-0000D-001 President George W. Bush. Photo by Eric Draper, White House.
George W. Bush: deadlier than Stalin?

Consequently, almost 45% of millennials actually say they would vote for a socialist president – a statistic that might have been surprising before the Bernie Sanders campaign, but perhaps isn’t so surprising now. Fully 32% of millennials actually believe more people were killed under George W. Bush than under Stalin. (The figure for Americans generally isn’t much better: 25%.)

Much of the millennial sympathy for socialism and Communism can be attributed to the widespread use, in high-school and colleage history courses, of a single book entitled A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1922-2010). We’ll get to him tomorrow.

Arthur Miller’s crucible

Yesterday we started exploring the life and career of the late playwright Arthur Miller, who continues to be viewed by mainstream American cultural commentators as a pillar of principle – and who, since his death in 2005, has been shown to have been an active Communist.

arthur_miller_1966
Arthur Miller in 1966

Indeed, historian Ron Capshaw has shown that Miller, even after becoming a famous writer, was careful to alter his political views in accordance with changes in Party orthodoxy. To sum up these changes briefly: during the 1930s, the CPUSA rejected all non-proletarian literature (i.e., literature that did not center thematically on the oppression of the workingman by the capitalist system); in 1944, under Earl Browder, the Party became more tolerant, accepting certain kind of non-proletarian writing as legitimate; a year later, however, after Browder was replaced as head of the Party by William Foster, “Browderism” became heresy. Through all these shifts in policy, Miller kept one finger firmly in the wind, dutifully reflecting the pronouncements of the Party bosses in his plays and other writings.

Julius_and_Ethel_Rosenberg_NYWTS
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Later, he would write The Crucible as an outraged reaction to the execution for treason of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, whose crime was nothing less than having helped pass the secrets of the atom bomb to the Kremlin. What’s interesting is that while he opposed the Rosenbergs’ execution, in 1949, participating in a New Masses symposium, he expressed the opinion that the American poet Ezra Pound, who had lived in Italy during the war and delivered crackpot radio speeches in support of Mussolini, should be shot. In short, while Miller viewed fascist treason as a capital crime, then, he did not see Communist treason in the same way.

crucible-original-production
The original 1953 production of The Crucible

For Miller, indeed, Communism was no treason at all. In a 1996 article in The New Yorker, he explained that he had written The Crucible because he recognized certain experiences as universal: just as people in colonial Salem had turned the other way when their neighbors were arrested for witchcraft, and gentiles in Nazi Germany had turned away when their Jewish neighbors had been arted off to Auschwitz, so in the 1950s “the old friend of a blacklisted person” could be seen “crossing the street to avoid being seen talking to him.”

mccarthy1
Senator Joseph McCarthy

Note that Miller here equated Communists not with Nazis but with the Jewish victims of Nazis; the Nazis he equated with Joe McCarthy and HUAC. Four years later, writing in the Guardian, he revisited his reasons for writing The Crucible, this time ridiculing the belief, during the late 1940s and early 1950s, “that a massive, profoundly organized conspiracy was in place and carried forward mainly by a concealed phalanx of intellectuals, including labor activists, teachers, professionals, sworn to undermine the American government.”

Miller treats this “belief” as an absurdity. On the contrary, the existence in midcentury America of a large-scale intellectual conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government is an irrefutable historical fact. Indeed, it is a fact that has become increasingly well substantiated in recent years as more and more incriminating documents from the Soviet archives have come to light.

hollywood10a
Nine of the Hollywood Ten

And this fact, as has often been noted, points to the central problem with The Crucible and its supposed relevance to what (thanks to Miller) came to be called the anti-Communist “witch hunt”: in seventeenth-century Salem, there were no witches; in mid twentieth-century America, there was an underground network of would-be Communist revolutionaries, and Miller was an active member of it. The executed “witches” of Salem were innocent victims; the Rosenbergs were anything but innocent, and neither were the Hollywood Ten, all of whom have been shown to be card-carrying Communists. And neither was Miller himself.

(Another failed parallel should also perhaps be pointed out: while the Salem “witches” were put to death, the Communists that HUAC and McCarthy uncovered were deprived of work by the Hollywood studios for a few years, with a few being jailed very briefly for failing to turn over subpoenaed documents. Whether or not one considers their questioning by Congress or their punishment by the studios to have been just, the fact is that most of them were extremely well-off people who did not suffer materially for having been found out as Communists.) 

1imorath
Inge Morath

Yesterday, we began our brief look at Arthur Miller by noting his image as a man of profound social conscience. One closing detail. Miller and his third wife, photographer Inge Morath, had a son, Daniel, who was born with Down’s syndrome in 1966. Inge wanted to keep the baby, but at Miller’s insistence he was put away in an institution near their home, which, according to one former employee, “was not a place you would want your dog to live.” Inge visited Daniel weekly; Miller never saw him – not once. He refused to talk about Daniel, and in his autobiography, Timebends, which came out in 1987 (by which time Daniel had moved into a group home), Miller dropped the boy entirely down the memory hole. Still later, apparently under pressure from his son-in-law, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Miller agreed to meet his son, who by then was doing very well and living on his own. But when Inge died, Miller told the Times obituarist that they had only one child together, their daughter, Rebecca. This from a man whose most admired play, Death of a Salesman, concludes with a famous speech in which a character, speaking at the grave of Willy Loman, passionately insists that “attention must be paid” to the life of even such an apparently insignificant person as this just-deceased salesman.

Such, then, was the moral hypocrisy of Arthur Miller – whose private morality could not have been more thoroughly inconsistent with his glorious public image as a world-class bulwark of social conscience.

Revising his life: Howard Fast

fast9
Howard Fast

After leaving the Communist Party in 1957, writer Howard Fast went on to even greater professional success. The 1960 film version of his novel Spartacus was a huge hit and remains a classic. He wrote a series of highly popular historical novels. Even after he left the Party, his work continued to be shot through with heavy-handed politics. He wrote a draft screenplay for Spartacus, but Kirk Douglas, the star and producer, rejected it, calling it “a disaster, unusable” because “[i]t was just characters spouting ideas.”

Fast also published not one but two accounts of his involvement with Communism. What is striking are the differences between the two books. In his 1957 Saturday Review piece he had written that while the U.S. was not perfect, “it is a land where the individual, in his work and in his rights, is recognized and defended”; the Communist Party however, was “a prison for man’s best and boldest dreams.”

godIn his book The Naked God: The Writer and the Communist Party, published the same year, Fast continued to take this line, describing Communism as being rooted in “naked terror, awful brutality, and frightening ignorance” and saying that Communists had sold their souls when they joined the Party. Thirty-three years later, however, he wrote another book, Being Red, in which – to quote a review by Gerald Meyer – he covered “much of the same material, but from a very different perspective and for a very different purpose.”

red1That’s putting it mildly. As Meyer himself put it, “Being Red describes Fast’s membership in the Party as the best years of his life.” Dropping The Naked God down the memory hole, Fast “insisted that the Party was not dominated by the Soviet Union,” praised the USSR for having vanquished Hitler and saved “three million Polish and Ukrainian Jews,” maintained that the Daily Worker “never compromised with the truth as it saw the truth,” and resumed saying, as he had during his Party days, that he and his fellow Reds were “priests in the brotherhood of man” and members of “the company of the good.” Meyer summed it up this way: “Without ever mentioning The Naked God, in Being Red Fast refuted the damning criticisms of the Party he made in the earlier memoir.” He even made up at least one story out of whole cloth. (This was far from the only lie he told about his career in later years. At one point he even claimed that Ronald Reagan had applied to join the CPUSA in 1938 but had been rejected as “too stupid” – a tale that was sheer invention.) Significantly, the list of “Books by Howard Fast” in the front of Being Red omitted The Naked God. “Clearly,” wrote Meyer, “The Naked God is something Fast wanted to forget, and amazingly the reviewers of Being Red have allowed it to be forgotten.”

Why did Fast revise the story of his life? Meyer got it right: he was 85 (he would die three years later) and “wanted to be remembered as a man of the Left.” While The Naked God had been a good career move in 1957, enabling him to resuscitate his career as a mainstream novelist, Being Red was an equally good career move in 1990, when the most honorable items a writer could have on his CV, in the eyes of the literary establishment, were a stint in the CPUSA and a period on the Hollywood blacklist. Historian Ron Capshaw’s summation seems fair enough: “Howard Fast, among the writers attracted to communism, emerges as the worst example for the CPUSA: simultaneously dupe and careerist, a propaganda merchant and a groupie.”

Embodying orthodoxy: Howard Fast and the Party

fast7
Howard Fast

The 1957 Saturday Review article in which novelist Howard Fast recounted his history in the Communist Party – and declared his resignation therefrom – provided an illuminating look behind the scenes of an ugly system that thrived on useful stoogery.

For example, Fast recalled a New York conference at which the American author Mary McCarthy asked a high-profile Soviet author, Alexander Fadayev, what had happened to a number of Soviet writers whom they carefully named,” in reply to which Fadayev

mccarthy_000
Mary McCarthy

not only gave his solemn word as a Soviet citizen that all of the named writers were alive and well, but…brilliantly ticked off the titles and description of the work that each particular writer was engaged upon. He told where they lived, when he had seen them, and even repeated details of their merry reaction to the “capitalist slander” that they were being persecuted. So smooth and ready was his rejoinder, so rich was the substance of his quickly supplied background, that one might well credit him with more creative imagination than he had ever shown in his own books. As chairman of the panel, I was quite naturally provoked that Miss McCarthy and her friends should so embarrass this fine and distinguished guest. His conviction and meticulous sincerity were above suspicion, and I think, if I remember correctly, that not only myself but Miss McCarthy and her friends were at least in some measure convinced that he spoke the truth. Like myself, how could they possibly have believed that a man would create such a monstrous and detailed lie and expect it to hold water?

fadayev
Alexander Fadayev

Yet Fast later learned that every last one of the writers McCarthy had asked about had, in fact, at the time of that New York conference, been “either dead from the torture chambers of the secret police or by firing squads, or lying in prison being tortured and beaten.” Fast had imagined that a respected writer like Fadayev was constitutionally incapable of telling such a massive lie, especially about such a serious matter as the well-being (or not) of his own literary colleagues; but in reality Fadayev had been a bald-faced liar, a thoroughly obedient tool of the Kremlin – ready, willing, and able to serve up utter fabrications in the service of a monstrous tyranny.

Fast admitted that he himself had been capable of doing this sort of thing:

maltz
Albert Maltz

When Albert Maltz, in 1946, sent to the New Masses an article that contained a rather mild criticism of the narrow and sectarian Communist attitude toward literature, he was treated as if he had committed a major crime. I include myself among those who blew up his criticism all out of proportion to its intent – a matter for which I have never forgiven myself, even though Maltz found it so easy to forgive and forget. Meetings were held. Mike Gold denounced Maltz with passion and language that a civilized person would reserve for pathological criminals. The fact that Albert Maltz was a writer of talent and unshakable integrity meant absolutely nothing.

Recalling this episode, historian Ron Capshaw wrote that Fast wasn’t just one of several people who criticized Maltz – he was, on the contrary, a brutal ringleader, an ideological enforcer out of Central Casting, “the embodiment of orthodoxy” who was “one of the most vicious of [John Howard] Lawson’s minions” (Lawson being the screenwriter who ran the Party’s Hollywood branch). To quote Capshaw, Fast “pounced” on Maltz.

More tomorrow.

Leaving the Party: Howard Fast

Portrait of American author Howard Fast (1914 - 2003), 1962. (Photo by Fred Stein Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Howard Fast

We’ve seen how novelist Howard Fast was supposedly disillusioned by Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” about the evil deeds of Fast’s longtime hero, Josef Stalin. In a 1957 essay for Saturday Review, Fast publicly declared that he’d left the Communist Party. (He wasn’t alone: a large majority of American Communists quit in the wake of Khrushchev’s revelations and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, also in 1956.)

Stalin_Joseph
Josef Stalin

That essay is a curious piece of work. On the one hand, he professed to be stunned by the reality of Stalin’s terror. On the other hand, he goes on to describe, with a novelist’s flair, the reality of life inside the Party, of which he had been a member for thirteen years. It is not a pretty picture. It is a grim portrait of a life made up of meetings with shifty, slimy, barely human characters – men and women who spouted dogma like robots, who feared original thinking “as the devil himself,” who bowed and scraped to their superiors, who systematically intimidate their inferiors, and who routinely listened for the slightest possible deviation from Party orthodoxy by their fellow members so that they could then set about denouncing them, humiliating them, and driving them from the fold.

The Party described by Fast was also populated by people utterly lacking in artistic taste or cultural sophistication – which was all to the good, from a Communist perspective, for art and culture, unless entirely devoted to promoting the Party, are anathema. It was also a fount of hypocrisy: Fast remembered a lunch meeting with the Romanian ambassador to the U.S., who was appalled when Fast and his colleagues from a Communist magazine, Mainstream, suggested that, in line with Communist doctrines of equality, the ambassador’s chauffeur be invited to join them at table. Moreover, the Party was a hive of envy: while Stalin and his henchmen in the Kremlin celebrated Fast, the local CPUSA hacks in New York saw him as an underling who was too big for his britches.

worker
A 1945 front page of the Daily Worker, edited at the time by Howard Fast

Fast maintained that he had never in his life experienced outside of the Party the kind of consistently repulsive behavior he had experienced and observed inside it. “Not even the warden of the Federal prison where I served a sentence as a political prisoner years later,” he wrote, “ever treated me or anyone else with such inhuman disdain and contempt.”

nikita
Nikita Khrushchev

It’s all very interesting. But also deeply puzzling. For by the time the Times published Khrushchev’s speech, Fast had been a member of the Party for a full thirteen years. He had long since noticed all the unpleasant things about the Party that he would detail in his Saturday Review piece. How, then, could he have been surprised, as he claimed to be, by the revelations contained in Khrushchev’s speech? Since he already knew how far short the Party fell of what it professed to be, why did it take Khrushchev’s speech to make him leave? Wouldn’t it have made more sense, on the contrary, if Fast, aware as he was of the corruption and cynicism of the Party, had welcomed Khrushchev’s speech as a breath of fresh air and as a reason to hope that, with Nikita rather than Uncle Joe at the helm, the whole operation might actually reform itself into something that actually was dedicated to brotherhood and all that? And in that case, why didn’t the Khrushchev speech cause him to rededicate himself to the Party rather than to leave it?