Vanessa Redgrave’s hatred for “Zionist hoodlums”

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Vanessa Redgrave

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.

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Redgrave and her brother Corin at an London antiwar rally in 1968

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.

More tomorrow.

Orwell’s stooges

We here at Useful Stooges would not presume to compare ourselves with George Orwell, the great English man of letters and enemy of tyranny in all its forms, but we have at least one thing in common with him. Our website could be described as a catalogue of people – some past, most present – who, as we put it on our “About” page, are “pawns of tyrants in our own time” who “either admire despotism or have figured out ways…to profit from their cynical support for it.”

1EN-625-B1945 Orwell, George (eigentl. Eric Arthur Blair), engl. Schriftsteller, Motihari (Indien) 25.1.1903 - London 21.1.1950. Foto, um 1945.
George Orwell

Orwell made a list, too. In 1949, the year he published his classic novel 1984 and not long before he died, he provided the Information Research Department, a newly established propaganda unit of the British Foreign Office, with the names of “journalists and writers who in my opinion are crypto-communists, fellow travellers or inclined that way, and should not be trusted.” In other words: people who, if hired or used in any way by British intelligence, would be likely to become double agents.

In 1996, when the existence of Orwell’s list became widely known, and again in 2003, when the list itself became public, many of his fellow men of the left condemned him as a McCarthyite, a blacklister, a rogue. Communist historian Christopher Hill called him a traitor to his side. (It is worth noting that Hill also despised Animal Farm for attacking Communism.)

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Christopher Hill

But Orwell’s friend David Astor, the longtime editor of the Observer, had a clearer view of things: “Orwell wasn’t betraying the left – the pro-communists were betraying us.” For Britain’s misguided left, Orwell’s crime was simple: he recognized that totalitarianism in the name of Communism was no better than totalitarianism in the name of Nazism. In short, he hated Stalin every bit as much as he hated Hitler. And that was inexcusable.

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Christopher Hitchens

But Orwell requires no defense from us; anyone who wants one need only consult the splendid essay on the subject that was published in 2002 by the estimable Christopher Hitchens. (It appears in Hitchens’s Why Orwell Matters,  in his posthumous collection, And Yet…,  which appeared last year, and is also behind a firewall at the New York Review of Books website.)

To this day, Orwell’s list is worth perusing. Because he was right. The people he named – journalists, historians, scientists, professors, even a couple of actors, a Member of Parliament, and a noted clergymen – deserved their places on that list. Orwell knew them for what they were. The problem is that we don’t. Most of the names on his list mean nothing to most people in the English-speaking world nowadays. That’s a shame. Because their stories illustrate that, then as now, it’s far from uncommon to find fans of totalitarianism in positions of power and influence in free countries.

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Walter Duranty

One of the names on Orwell’s list is that of Walter Duranty, our archetypal useful stooge. Duranty was the New York Times‘s man in Moscow from 1922 to 1936; he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932. At the time Orwell included Duranty’s name on his list, Duranty was still a highly respected journalist. Not until years later would his dispatches from Russia come under serious scrutiny. Robert Conquest, in his 1968 book The Great Terror, condemned Duranty for systematically whitewashing the evils of Stalinism and trying to cover up the Ukrainian famine. The publication in 1990 of Sally J. Taylor’s biography of Duranty, which was appropriately entitled Stalin’s Apologist, helped trigger a serious effort to have Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize revoked. In 2003, however, the head of the Pulitzer board declined to withdraw the prize. He still didn’t get it; Orwell had gotten it more than a half-century earlier.

Another useful stooge whose number Orwell had early on was a Daily Express editor named Peter Smollett, who years later would be identified as a Soviet spy. We’ll look at Smollett tomorrow.

Celebrating treason in the Big Apple

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol (pictured, pink shirt) and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, (pictured, blue shirt) received a proclamation from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. Pictured, left to right: City Council member Mark Levine, City Council member Daniel Dromm, Robert Meeropol, Michael Meeropol and Gail Brewer. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.
Rosenberg sons Robert and Michael Meeropol, hold the proclamations, flanked by Daniel Dromm and Gale Brewer, outside City Hall

It’s only been a few days since we finished up our three-parter on the Rosenbergs, but we’ve got to return to them today because New York City’s City Council has done something truly remarkable. On Monday, September 29, which would have been Ethel Rosenberg’s 100th birthday, the City Council issued an official proclamation honoring her “life and memory,” praising her “bravery,” and describing her as having been “wrongfully” executed. The man behind this initiative was Daniel Dromm, a Democrat who represents the neighborhoods of Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Rego Park, and Woodside in Queens. At the same time, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, also a Democrat, issued a separate proclamation, declaring September 29 the “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.”

The putative reason for this official tribute to Ethel Rosenberg is that she was a pro-union activist who took part in a 1935 strike. But the real reason, which neither Dromm and Brewer sought to disguise in their remarks at a public ceremony outside City Hall, was to portray both Rosenbergs, in time-honored fashion, as innocent victims of American anti-communist hysteria.

When the Rosenbergs were executed, said Dromm, “it was a time of Jew-baiting, it was a time of McCarthyism, a time of anti-Communist hysteria.” These are familiar words. For certain people on the left, even all these decades later, it’s McCarthyism, not Stalinism, that was the real horror of the early postwar years. They still speak of anti-Communism almost as if there was no such thing as Communism itself. In their rhetoric, the terror of life under Stalin dissolves; the Gulag disappears; the Iron Curtain evaporates. And all that is left is Americans’ apparently baseless “hysteria.”

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Ethel Rosenberg

Then there’s Dromm’s reference to “Jew-baiting,” which is, of course, a total diversion. The Rosenbergs weren’t targeted because they were Jews; they were arrested, prosecuted, and executed because they were consciously betraying their country, and threatening its security, on behalf of a totalitarian enemy.

Fortunately, some savvy observers called Dromm and Brewer out on their reprehensible actions. “In these days of progressive ascendancy in New York,” wrote Seth Barron the other day in City Journal, “the Left is in charge, and thus responsible for the humdrum management of trash pickup and school curricula. But that stuff is boring when you’ve been raised on the mythos of class struggle and the glory of violent martyrdom. Today’s leftist leaders can’t help but be wistful for a time when their side was losing and their fight was noble. They cherish the ideals of their revolutionary forebears because it makes them feel like warriors for the oppressed.”

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, received a proclamation (pictured) from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.

The editors of the New York Post were disgusted, too.  The City Council, they charged, had “yet again proved itself one of New York’s biggest political embarrassments.” The City Hall ceremony, they aptly put it, was “the latest installment in the left’s decades-long drive to pretend Ethel and her husband Julius didn’t spy for Moscow.”

But Dromm and Brewer weren’t alone in celebrating the Rosenbergs – and condemning their executioners. At Raw Story, Katie Halper, a contributor to such outlets as The Nation, MSNBC, Jezebel, and Russia Today, rhapsodized over Julius and Ethel and confessed that Ethel’s farewell letter to her sons had made her “cry on live radio.” This is the famous letter in which Ethel lied to her kids, insisting that she and their father were innocent and perversely representing their devotion to Stalin as a commitment to “freedom.” The City Hall ceremony was attended by members of the Rosenberg family, including the traitors’ granddaughter Rachel and her seven-year-old daughter. “The execution left two children orphaned,” we were solemnly reminded at the ceremony. But it wasn’t the fault of America that those two boys grew up without parents; Julius and Ethel made the conscious choice to put their allegiance to a monstrous, bloodthirsty tyrant above their duty to their children.