Though Vanessa Redgrave is one of the world’s great actresses of stage and screen, and a member of the most renowned acting dynasty ever, she’s at least as well known for her politics as for her performances. The most famous moment of her career is still the speech she gave in 1978 upon winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her title role in Julia. Redgrave was already famous for her outspoken Marxism, her support for the PLO, and her hostility toward Israel, and she had just produced and narrated an anti-Israel documentary, The Palestinian, which had caused outrage among many American Jews. As a newspaper profile would point out many years later, by the time of that award ceremony her “reputation for hectoring radicalism had made her widely disliked.”
After being handed her Oscar by John Travolta, Redgrave expressed thanks for the honor and praised her co-star, Jane Fonda, and her director, Fred Zinneman. She then thanked the audience – or, at least, the Academy members present who had cast their ballots for her – for having “stood firm” and “refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums.”
At the sound of the words “Zionist hoodlums” there were audible gasps from the audience – followed by a good deal of booing. Unruffled, Redgrave went on to maintain that by giving her the Best Supporting Actress nod, Academy voters had “dealt a final blow against that period when Nixon and McCarthy launched a worldwide witch-hunt against those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believe in.” In other words, by choosing to present that golden statuette to Redgrave rather than to one of her fellow nominees (Leslie Browne, Quinn Cummings, Melinda Dillon, and Tuesday Weld), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had finally brought the age of McCarthyism to an end.
It was, all in all, a high point in the history of show-business vanity, self-importance, ideological hectoring, and moral posturing. And it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Just a few years earlier, Redgrave and her brother Corin had joined a radical British faction called the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), and had immediately become its most famous and influential members. Corin had even bought a house in Derbyshire for the party to use as a training camp. Over the next few years, the WRP developed close ties to Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya, took money from him, and engaged in espionage on his behalf. The party also accepted payments from Saddam Hussein, on whose behalf its members photographed participants in demonstrations against Saddam’s regime. All this happened with the knowledge and approval of Vanessa Redgrave, who was twice an WRP candidate for for Parliament.
Is it true or not? We don’t know. But we thought it might be worth passing on, as a glimpse into the American Communist mindset, with the proviso that there is no way of knowing whether there’s even a grain of truth in it.
Here it is: the American Communist Party publication People’s World claimed on April 19 that “Communist Party membership numbers [are] climbing in the Trump era.” In fact, the article reporting this development was not original with People’s World – it was copied out of the international edition of the Cuban daily Granma, which of course, like all media on that island prison (other than a handful of surreptitious Samizdat blogs), is under the thumb of the Castro regime. But the article was an interview with a People’s World hack, Emile Schepers, who aside from writing regularly for that publication is also International Secretary of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA).
Here’s the gist of Granma‘s interview with Schepers: the CPUSA “has been receiving membership requests ever since Donald Trump was elected President.” At the moment, to be sure, its numbers are, um, modest: 5,000 members nationwide out of a total U.S. population of over 300 million, or about 0.0017%. But hey, as Granma helpfully explained, this sad showing is a result of “Cold War repression,” or, as Schepers put it, “the phantom of the McCarthy era.”
Yes, the McCarthy era – the firing of a few State Department Communists, the brief imprisonment of American citizens who were serving a foreign enemy, and the execution of two people who did nothing less than help provide the USSR with the secrets of the atomic bomb. As opposed, of course, to the Castro era, during which countless people were shot by firing squads for being gay, for being dissident writers or artists, or for having connections (of whatever kind) to the Batista government. Because of McCarthy’s Senate hearings and/or the House Un-American Activities Committee, a few rich Hollywood screenwriters flew to Paris or London to work there until the whole thing blew over; because of Castro, over a million Cubans took their lives in their hands to make their way to Florida – and freedom – on small boats or rafts.
Schepers, a South Africa-born anthropologist who grew up in various places around the U.S. and now lives in Virginia (just like the Soviet spy family in the Netflix series The Americans), acknowledged to Granma that “the United States is in no way experiencing a pre-revolutionary situation in the communist sense.” But, on the upside, “capitalism is showing terminal signs worldwide.” Schepers believes Bernie Sanders, if nominated by the Democrats, would have defeated Donald Trump. But a big problem remains: that of “organizing workers and trade union structures” in America “around defending the rights of the most vulnerable workers.” Thearticle then mentioned that the CPUSA has been a strong supporter of the chavista movement in Venezuela. The irony that even the “most vulnerable workers” in the U.S. are far better off than their counterparts in today’s Venezuela – not to mention Cuba – seemed lost on the editors at both Granma and People’s World.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.)
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.
Arthur Miller (1915-2005), author of such plays as Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, All My Sons, and A View from the Bridge, was – and is – considered not only one of the great dramatists of the twentieth century but also one of the century’s great embodiments of moral principle. When he died, the Chicago Tribune called him “the preeminent social conscience of the world stage, the Denver Post said he was “the moralist of the past American century,” and The New York Times, in which his obituary was headlined “Arthur Miller, Moral Voice of American Stage,” praised his “fierce belief in man’s responsibility to his fellow man.” At his memorial service, fellow playwright Tony Kushner described Miller as having possessed the “curse of empathy.” To this day, his plays are taught in American schools – not only in English classes, but also in history classes, where The Crucible is used to illustrate the supposed parallels between the Salem witch trials of 1692-3 with the interrogation of suspected Communists in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
What had Miller done to win such praise? Many of his plays were, to some extent or another, pleas for social conscience and social responsibility. They are populated by characters whose idealism is crushed or whose ambitions go unfulfilled; Miller’s apparent empathy for these losers in the game of life earned him widespread plaudits. So did his conduct when he himself appeared before HUAC on June 21, 1956. Whle admitting to having attended Communist Party meetings and been involved with a number of Communist front groups, pro-Communist appeals, and Communist-organized protests, Miller refused to name the names of other people who had taken part in these activities. This alone was enough to make him a hero on the left at the time – and a few years later, in the 1970s, when every last one of the men and women who had stood up to HUAC came to be uniformly lionized by mainstream American culture (never mind whether or not they had actually been Stalinists), Miller was consistently depicted as a man of high principle. To so much as hint that he had been a Communist was considered the most vile kind of slur on his character.
In fact, while he had declined to tell HUAC whether he had ever been a Communist Party member, the truth was that he had, at one time, at least, been a convinced Communist – and, for all we know, remained one for the rest of his life. In 2007, two years after Miller’s life, historian Alan Wald revealed that Miller had frequently written for the Daily Worker, New Masses, and other Communist periodicals in the late 1930s and 1940s, and that between March 1945 and March 1946 he had contributed theater reviews to NewMasses under a pseudonym, Matt Wayne. Miller’s writings for these publications, according to Wald, were ideologically consistent with the then-current Party line and were “militantly angry” in their hostility to “imperialism,” which Miller identified as “the enemy.”
We’ve spent a good deal of time on this website in the company of the Boris and Natasha of Kremlin buffs, veteran Ivy League Sovietologist Stephen F. Cohen and his sweet little hausfrau Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher and editor-in-chief of Pravda – sorry, The Nation. Most recently, we’ve seen how more and more folks in the media and academy have come to recognize that Cohen is nothing more or less than a shill for Vladimir Putin. His wife, plainly understanding that the jig is perilously close to being up, has reacted in accordance with longtime Nation habits – by doubling down on the disinformation. So it was that readers of the radical rag were treated on May 20 to a ridiculously long piecein which James Carden savaged a new report on pro-Russian propaganda in the West.
The report, which Carden slammed as a “highly polemical manifesto,” was, he charged, essentially “a publicity stunt by two journalists attempting to cash in on the Russophobia so in vogue among American pundits.” He proceeded to smear one of the report’s authors, Michael Weiss, for his background at the Henry Jackson Society – a first-rate think tank in London that Carden dismissed as “a London-based bastion of neoconservatism” and maligned as “anti-Muslim” for its gutsy, cogent critiques of Islam. Carden also went after Weiss’s co-author, Peter Pomerantsev, as an “assiduous self-promoter” (a type, of course, unfamiliar to the folks at The Nation) and for his ties to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former billionaire whom Putin unceremoniously jailed, tortured, and relieved of the bulk of his assets.
In what has become a standard ploy of Putin apologists, Carden besmirched Khodorkovsky – “it should not be forgotten that the oil tycoon made his fortune in a spectacularly corrupt and sometimes violent fashion,” etc., etc. – as a means of distraction from the epic corruption and violence of Putin, who, after all, unlike the former businessman and current human-rights activist Khodorkovsky, is the saber-rattling, gay-oppressing, opponent-murdering head of a nuclear power.
Please do come back tomorrow: we’re not quite done with Mr. Carden’s jeremiad – or, needless to say, with his shifty, Kremlin-loving paymasters, the American left’s own Boris and Natasha.