Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

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


[Undated]

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

Gentlemen:

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

Gentlemen:

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.

March 16, 2016

Fireworks Wednesday

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 9:07 pm

Opening today at the Film Forum in New York, “Fireworks Wednesday” is now the fourth film I have seen by Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian director I hold in the highest esteem. Unlike the persecuted Jafar Panahi whose works take up broad social and political questions, Farhadi’s films are domestic dramas having much in common with the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s work. What Farhadi and Ceylan share is the ability to communicate the psychic ills of their respective countries through the microcosm of stories that confirm the observation made in the first sentence of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Made in 2006, “Fireworks Wednesday” is not quite up to the standards of his later films—About Elly (2009), A Separation (2011), The Past (2013)—but it is more than good enough to whet your appetite for more. (The first is available on ITunes, the other two on Amazon.)

Like Panahi’s “This is not a Film” that is set against the backdrop of the Wednesday preceding the Iranian New Year, “Fireworks Wednesday”, as the title would indicate, occurs on the same day and shares fireworks as a metaphor for the tensions faced by the respective characters. For Panahi, the firecrackers going off continuously on the streets outside where he is being kept under house arrest remind him of gunfire. At the time, Iran’s most famous director was banned from making films so the merry-making outside only served to deepen his anxiety.

A few minutes into “Fireworks Wednesday”, we see a young chador-clad woman named Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti, who played Elly in “About Elly”) showing up at a high-rise in northern Tehran where she has a day laborer’s job lined up to clean an apartment on the sixth floor. As many of you probably remember, this part of the city was a bastion of support for the Green Movement and that was written off by many on the left as a brie-eating, Chablis-drinking den of counter-revolution. Rouhi lives on the outskirts of Tehran and has few interests apparently except getting paid for a day’s work and planning for her impending marriage to a young man from the city’s working class.

As the film begins, firecrackers and rockets are going off constantly in the city’s streets, reminding you the early evening of December 31st. As the film moves ahead with an increasingly strife-ridden narrative, the frequency of the fireworks increases until they seem continuous, especially when we begin to see the bonfires that dot the streets of Tehran–a throwback to Farsi rites of antiquity. At the climax of the film, they suggest the fires of hell.

Just before she enters the apartment where she will be paid for a post-painting clean-up, the bearish husband named Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad) and his wife Mojdeh (Hedieh Tehrani) have just finished quarreling over matters that will only be revealed later in the film. We learn that he has been cheating on her with the woman next door who runs a beauty salon out of her living room against building regulations. As it turns out, Mojdeh has suspected them for some time and reported her to the building management that is now trying to evict her, a way that her rival can be removed.

As plots go, this triangle hardly would appear to compare with the nobility of “Anna Karenina” but it is Farhardi’s gift to elevate the affairs of everyday if not ignoble people into intense drama that is unmatched in cinema today. Rouhi is caught between the husband and wife who both try to exploit her in their gambit to keep the marriage together or to break it. As she is snared deeper and deeper into their domestic warfare, the more her attitude toward her own impending marriage darkens.

If you are looking for intense drama starring some of Iran’s finest actors, put “Fireworks Wednesday” on your calendar.

March 15, 2016

The Jeffrey Goldberg-Barack Obama interviews: the truth comes out

Filed under: Obama,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:03 pm

Jeffrey Goldberg, the unctuous Zionist liberal and diehard supporter of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, gained extraordinary access to President Obama for an Atlantic Magazine interview titled “The Obama Doctrine”. This 20,000-word document has been hailed by Patrick Cockburn as evidence that Obama has “turned his back on Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies”. If that is the case, one might expect to see him, Patrick L. Smith, Robert Parry, Seymour Hersh, Robert Fisk, Tariq Ali and David Bromwich on the unemployment line soon.

Although the prospects of wading through 37 pages of an article consisting of these two stroking each other’s ego filled me with dread, it behooved me as a chronicler of the Syrian debacle to lift up the rock and see what’s crawling around.

To start off, it confirms what I have argued for the longest time. Samantha Power, who was widely regarded as an aggressive “regime change” proponent who had Obama’s ear, was regarded as a king-sized annoyance by Obama who would only consider intervention if it improved the corporate bottom line. Rescuing impoverished Syrian farmers and shopkeepers fighting for their lives and a better future for their children was not even worth considering.

Referring to her book “A Problem from Hell” that defended a liberal interventionist “right to protect” policy that supposedly he agreed with, Obama rebuked her for advocating a war that was not in America’s interest from a realpolitik standpoint:

Power sometimes argued with Obama in front of other National Security Council officials, to the point where he could no longer conceal his frustration. “Samantha, enough, I’ve already read your book,” he once snapped.

The clash should have been obvious to anybody closely following White House foreign policy as I reported nearly two years ago. I seemed to be the only person who had read a NY Times article from October 22nd 2013 that stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.”

Within the thousands of articles in CounterPunch, DissidentVoice, Salon, ZNet, World Socialist Website and Global Research warning about Obama following in the footsteps of George Bush, there was a fundamental flaw they shared. They got the name right but only partially:

Obama, unlike liberal interventionists, is an admirer of the foreign-policy realism of President George H. W. Bush and, in particular, of Bush’s national-security adviser, Brent Scowcroft (“I love that guy,” Obama once told me). Bush and Scowcroft removed Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991, and they deftly managed the disintegration of the Soviet Union; Scowcroft also, on Bush’s behalf, toasted the leaders of China shortly after the slaughter in Tiananmen Square.

This is the same Brent Scowcroft who deftly parried Ali G.’s advice that the US of A bomb Canada ‘cuz they wasn’t expectin’ it. Perhaps this is what inspired Obama to study his example. On a more fundamental level, Obama’s foreign policy boiled down to the precept he passed on to anybody who would listen—but privately: “Don’t do stupid shit.” I am sure that Bill Maher was one of the people Obama shared this wisdom with. I can just see the two high-fiving each other and braying like jackasses.

Almost sounding like Trump and Rubio, Obama went after Hillary Clinton when she wrote an article in the August 2014 Atlantic urging military aid to the Syrian rebels. According to Goldberg, Obama became “rip-shit angry” but afterwards made up with her, the woman he probably understood would carry on the Clinton/Bush/Obama legacy of neoliberalism and realpolitik. It boiled down to this. Obama had no interest in toppling Assad because he did not see him as a threat to American security. In fact, although Goldberg does not mention it, the Syrian dictator had collaborated with the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, had gotten the red carpet treatment from Obama’s counterpart Tony Blair and even been written up with his wife in Mademoiselle magazine as the Middle East’s Beautiful Couple. More like the people who would have been invited to the White House than bombed.

Goldberg analyzes Obama’s retreat from the “red line” stance he took after the Baathists used sarin gas in an attack on Ghouta in August 2013 as one dictated by a fear of “going it alone”. It seemed that his allies had little interest in a war on Syria. Also, his Director of National Intelligence James Clapper entertained the idea that the rebels might have gassed themselves in a “false flag” operation. Had he been reading Global Research? I wouldn’t put it past him. This is the same James Clapper who had a “huge concern” that ISIS would exploit the refugee crisis to sneak terrorists into Europe and who lied to Congress in 2013, telling it that the NSA does not collect private data. In other words, just the sort of person who Obama would take at his word.

What’s missing from Goldberg’s account, however, is the more obvious explanation for Obama’s misgivings. It might jeopardize the rapprochement with Iran that was in its early stages. In September 2013, when all the usual left websites were besides themselves over the possibility of Obama invading Syria to impose “regime change”, he was on the telephone with Iran’s president discussing how to move things forward as the Guardian reported:

Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani held the first direct talks between American and Iranian leaders since the 1979 Islamic revolution, exchanging pleasantries in a 15-minute telephone call on Friday that raised the prospect of relief for Tehran from crippling economic sanctions.

Speaking at the White House shortly after the historic call, Obama said his discussion with Rouhani had shown the “basis for resolution” of the dispute over Iran nuclear programme.

At least for me, this carried a lot more weight than anything else. The White House had made up its mind that a tilt toward Iran was in its interest. Why overthrow Assad and alienate a country that had already proved itself as a flexible partner back when Oliver North was hammering out deals to supply weapons to the Nicaraguan contras?

For Obama’s critics on the interventionist right, his inaction was a blow to American credibility. Such “dithering” made the USA look weak and indecisive. But this is a shallow analysis. In fact, Obama’s stance was bold and decisive. He had decided that it was in America’s interest to have friendly relations with Iran and he would go to any lengths to ensure success. If he antagonized the Republican Party in the process, that would matter little since they had already shown a tendency to put a minus wherever he put a plus.

This pretty much covers what Obama had to say about Syria but I do want to conclude with some brief words about Libya, which factored heavily in his decision to stay out of Syria. As we have heard thousands of times from the Baathist amen corner, this “failed state” was reason enough to defend Assad, who like Gaddafi knew how to keep the jihadi rabble in line. Never forget that the two were entirely open to torturing them on behalf of the CIA. Waterboarding would learn ’em out of sharia law, you betcha.

Speaking now of the Libyan intervention, Obama says “It didn’t work.” An interesting observation but what does it mean? Keep in mind that the “anti-imperialist” left always thought that after Gaddafi was toppled, Libya would become something more or less like Panama after Noriega was overthrown—a vassal state that could reliably carry out American designs in the region like building up AFRICOM. (Of course, they never bothered to go to the AFRICOM website where Gaddafi’s high military command was held in high regard by their American counterparts for their willingness to collaborate.)

Yes, I suppose things turned out to be a disaster in Libya since it is anything but a tool of American interests. Widely regarded as an expert on what “went wrong” in Libya, Horace Campbell put it this way:

There is not a week since October 2011 when oil executives from Europe have not complained about insecurity in Libya. Although the Libyan ‘government’ has established a Petroleum Facilities Guard with 18,000 men to protect oil production, there are constant statements about ‘insecurity’ in Libya among European oil companies. According to the Financial Times, “Heavily armed militias are invading oilfields, locals demanding jobs are blockading facilities, and protests are closing down export terminals. And then there are the regional concerns in the wake of the attack on an oil facility in neighbouring Algeria earlier this year.”

Unruly natives demanding jobs are blockading facilities? Time to civilize ‘em with a Krag, I’d say.

Obama worried that if Assad was overthrown, Syria would become a mess like Libya with Islamic militias running around threatening law and order and creating a hostile environment for foreign investors. Who can blame him since Libya is a mess by any standard? And most of all, a place where it is dangerous to walk down the streets with out of control trigger-happy militias on the loose.

Just look at the murder rate. Since the militias declared open season on each other in 2014, 4,275 people have been killed. That’s nearly 32 out of every 100,000 people annually. There is of course an issue over whether this litmus test might be applied to Venezuela that has nearly 3 times as high a murder rate but this does not matter so much since the deaths are not accompanied by cries of God is Great, a sure sign of a failed state. This is not to speak of Syria that supposedly is fighting the Good Fight so that it does not end up like Libya, a rather puzzling proposition in the light of the proportional losses it would have suffered in the last two years if it was the size of Syria: 134,000.

At any rate, I will be taking up these questions at a future date when I have had a chance to do some necessary research. I will say at this point, however, that Libya like every other state in MENA is sharply divided by ethnic and religious differences, often masking a more fundamental class divide. In my view, the best way out of this impasse is building a revolutionary left like the kind that emerged in the wake of the Russian revolution of 1917 or the Cuban revolution of 1960. That task is not furthered by writing apologetics for Baathist barbarism, even if there were Cold War-encouraged delusions that Gaddafi or the Baathists were our kinds of peeps. These sorts of beliefs have been endemic on the left for much too long and it is about time we started with a clean slate.

March 14, 2016

Censored Voices

Filed under: Film,zionism — louisproyect @ 6:04 pm

“Censored Voices”, now available on VOD (http://www.musicboxfilms.com/censored-voices-movies-126.php), is the latest in a series of Israeli films that rue the transformation of David into Goliath. Typically they feature members of the IDF or Mossad wringing their hands over the evil that circumstances forced them to do. This includes narrative films such as “Waltz with Bashir and “Zaytoun” or documentaries like “The Gatekeepers”. “Censored Voices” is based on tapes made in 1967 by veterans of the Six Day War who after returning to their kibbutzim recorded their disaffection over what they had done and where Israel was going. Up until recently, the tapes have not been available in their entirety. Once you hear them, you understand why. The IDF veterans come across as men disgusted by their own brutality in the service of venal goals having little to do with Zionist propaganda.

As a perfect symbol of their outlook, the film begins with famed novelist and liberal Amos Oz listening to his taped lamentations as a soldier just returned to his kibbutz nearly 50 years earlier. He sits there silently listening to his recorded voice, as do all the other men now in their seventies accepting that Israel’s depraved status today was sealed by its tarnished victory in 1967. What they probably are not willing to acknowledge is that its depravity was preordained by its first victory in 1948.

If you want to understand Amos Oz and others of his ilk, I recommend Lawrence Davidson’s CounterPunch article titled “The Dilemma of the Liberal Zionist”. He writes:

In truth the term “liberal Zionist” has never made much sense. The only way to explain its survival is to consider the survival of the Zionist storyline itself – the story of Israel as a democracy upholding the Western model in the Middle East. As long as one believed that this was true, one could dismiss Israeli brutality as just occasional slippage from progressive political and civil principles supposedly underlying the state. Within this context, there could be liberal Zionists privately decrying occasional Israeli bad behavior. But the Zionist storyline was not true. We never were dealing with just occasional slippage but rather with the inherent brutality of a state with policies and practices designed to bring about racist ends (a nation exclusively for one group)  – while conjuring up a remarkably durable cover story that it was, after all, a liberal democracy.

As a sign that the liberal self-justification might finally be breaking down, the film concludes with the words of the various IDF veterans as they reflect on Israel today. For the most part, they sound much more like CounterPunch contributor, IDF veteran and bold anti-Zionist Gideon Levy than spokesmen for Peace Now coming to terms with the reality that the creation of the state of Israel was neither progressive nor democratic—at least understood in terms of the rights of the people who had been living there for millennia.

As soldiers, they were first of all shocked by what it felt like to be a conquering power and an occupation army. Coming from the world of the “socialist” and secular-minded kibbutzim, they were left cold by all the messages they heard from rabbis, their officers, and government officials about how their victory fulfilled the “promised land” ideals put forward in Otto Preminger’s “Exodus”, a film that Dalton Trumbo would probably eventually have second thoughts about even though it helped him get a foothold back in the screenwriting business.

Since it would have obviously not worked in filmic terms to just play back the audio of the various statements made by the soldiers with a blank screen (even though the words are very dramatic), the film relies heavily on TV footage and other archival material from the period.

Never referring once to “Palestinians” and always using the word “Arabs” instead (a strategy to avoid recognizing them as a distinct nationality), the soldiers talk about their revulsion over forcing villagers to become refugees after blowing up their homes. They can’t help but to see themselves victimizing innocent people the same way their parents or grandparents were victimized in the 30s and 40s. As one soldiers says, “I had an abysmal feeling that I was evil.”

Mor Loushy, the young female director of “Censored Voices”, hopes that the film will help to restore Israel back to its ostensibly idealistic roots as she puts it in the press notes:

As an Israeli who is now raising a young boy, I believe it is necessary to expose these recordings to today’s audience. Because the Occupation has become an axiom and the settlements grow larger and larger, it is critical to stop and listen. Especially today, we should look back and see what society have we become in the 45 years following the war. I believe that returning to this authentic moment will teach us something new about this never-ending conflict. I believe these recordings are a piece of history that must see the light today, right now.

Given the increasingly reactionary tendencies of Israeli society today in which figures such as Loushy and Amos Oz are pushed to the sidelines by Likudnik politicians who would fit nicely into Hitler’s bureaucracy, it is doubtful that the film will have much impact on Israeli opinion. I do recommend the film for my readers outside Israel who are involved with BDS since it is a powerful testimony for the need to isolate and eventually break down the Zionist system that makes people like Amos Oz soul-sick and the disenfranchised Palestinians simply sick.

March 11, 2016

Boom Bust Boom

Filed under: economics,Film,financial crisis,humor — louisproyect @ 9:13 pm

If I were to mention that a new film opened today that consisted pretty much of economists discussing financial crisis, your eyes would glaze over, right? But when such a film is directed by Monty Python alum Terry Jones, that’s a horse of another color. (It is co-directed by Bill Jones who directed a documentary on fellow alum Graham Chapman and Ben Timlett who produced a six-part TV tribute to the group.)

So what you get is a wickedly funny but mind-expanding analysis of 2008 by economists both famous (Paul Krugman) and famous only to their comrades (Nathan Tankus) that is driven by the proposition that the capitalist system is inherently unstable.

To give you an idea of how deep it gets into its material, it spends 15 minutes reprising Hyman Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis using his son Alan and a cartoon representation of dad going back and forth on the ramifications. As someone who has delved somewhat superficially into Minsky over the years (I prefer the more hard-core Marxists obviously) but never quite understood him, this was an amazing segment that finally allowed his ideas to sink in. Put in a nutshell, crises are cyclical affairs that grow out of stability. When a system is stable as the American economy was after WWII, it is easier for a sense of euphoria to develop that leads to speculation of the sort that makes bubbles possible. Once the bubble bursts, the system goes into crisis and a sense of impending doom. Then, once again, the system drags itself out of the abyss and new round of stability ensues–leading once again to another round of instability.

Minsky is much beloved by a number of the interviewees including Randall Wray from the U. of Missouri (a department that tolerates dissidents opposed to neoclassical bunkum), New Yorker Magazine contributor John Cassidy, British journalist Paul Mason, and our boy genius Nathan Tankus from Naked Capitalism and PEN-L.

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We learn that Minsky decided to study economics in the 1930s because the pat answers being presented by academic experts and media pundits was so out of whack with the reality. As it turns out, it was the Great Recession and the Occupy Wall Street movement (events that can be understood as a somewhat less cataclysmic repeat of the 1930s) that inspired Nathan to study economics. How do I know? He told me so.

Using puppets, animation and Terry Jones’s inspired narration, the film makes economic history not only understandable but hugely entertaining. For example, in reviewing past bubble-bursting affairs, it starts with the Tulip Mania in Holland of 1637 in which the lovely but ultimately common bulb was sold as if it were gold until one morning sellers showed up at a marketplace to discover that all the buyers were gone. Terry Jones illustrates this with an animated caricature of a Rembrandt portrait of a Dutch burgher singing “I kiss thee tulips with my two lips”.

Towards the end of the film, there is a well-deserved assault on the economics profession from people like Nathan who are trying to use the discipline as a tool for social change. We hear from students in the postgraduate economic society at the University of Manchester who like him are organizing extracurricular activities to examine about the true cause of economic instability, a phenomenon that their own instructors have ignored. One student points out that economics department get funding based on the studies they produce for mainstream outlets that are inherently neoclassical. So there is an economic incentive to falsify economics.

This is an amazing film that I can’t recommend highly enough. That being said, I did have a problem with a segment that seems to express a bias of the men who made it, namely that financial crises arise out of some deeply rooted flaw in human psychology that fosters a get rich quick behavior. Indeed, the film begins with an explanation for the subprime crisis that veers a bit too much in the direction of poor people getting mortgages they really didn’t qualify for.

We hear from scientists involved with studying rhesus monkey behavior on an island near Puerto Rico. They trained them to gamble by choosing one of two options: the safe choice offered them at least a little food for sure, while a risky choice generally offered them a bigger amount of food but only a fifty-fifty shot of getting it. One of the scientists argues that given 35 million years of evolution, such behavior is very difficult to eradicate.

This is a little too close to Jared Diamond’s sociobiology for comfort. I don’t think that evolution has anything to do with this. Generally speaking, pre-capitalist society, especially among hunting and gathering peoples, is marked by an aversion to risk. People hunted collectively in order to provide food that would keep them fed for a given period without any desire to accumulate after the fashion of a banker buying collateralized mortgage obligations in 2006.

Whenever I hear about monkeys or chimps having anything in common with us, I am reminded of a silly business in Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee”. This exercise in sociobiology (an updated version of the 19th century social Darwinism) includes a chapter titled “The Golden Age That Never Was” where he argues that since monkeys and apes have an evolutionary imperative to pass on their genes, art must be a clever stratagem by men to lure women into bed. This led Tom Wilkie to drolly observe in the May 22, 1991 Independent that this lesson must have been lost on Tchaikovsky, Andy Warhol and other homosexual artists.

“Boom Bust Boom” opened today at the Village East in New York City. Don’t miss it. It is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Surprise, surprise: German ultraright party tilts toward Kremlin

Filed under: Russia,ultraright — louisproyect @ 1:38 pm

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March 10, 2016

On Bernie Sanders’s “political revolution”

Filed under: Bernie Sanders — louisproyect @ 6:42 pm

Graphic from Socialist Workers newspaper

Being a senior citizen is a mixed blessing. On the debit side, I have to put up with ailments that tend to develop once you are past 50 (which I am well past) such as cataracts, hypertension, and the male-only benign prostatic hyperplasia. On the credit side, having been on the front lines of most of the political battles of the past 50 years, I have gained a lot of experience that allows me to be a bit more skeptical of the Sanders campaign that many younger people on the left embrace like a shiny new toy.

Of course, there are some grizzled veterans who are also fixated on the new toy, which can be explained by their viewing votes for a Democrat as a tactical matter. To give credit where credit is due, I would say that Ethan Young’s article on the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung website titled “A Political Revolution” is the most skillful attempt to justify voting Democrat—much more informed than, for example, the Socialist Alternative people whose article explaining their participation in the Sanders campaign appears juvenile by comparison.

I should mention that the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung is basically the NY branch office of Die Linke, the German left party that generally fights the good fight even though it has erred badly on Syria. In my view, the USA is urgently in need of such a party as the Socialist Alternative comrades argue in their article but mistakenly believe—as does Young—that the Sanders campaign can mutate into such a party. It is more likely that I will mutate into Rosa Luxemburg.

Young starts off by making comparisons between Debs and Sanders that might seem plausible at first blush since Sanders had his picture in both his mayor’s office in Burlington and now in his Senate office. In 1979, he made an LP that paid tribute to “a socialist, a revolutionary and probably the most effective and popular leader that the American working class has ever had.” Young writes: “Sanders is the first self-proclaimed socialist to win a national audience since Eugene V. Debs ran as the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate in the early 20th century, and the size of his base is arguably greater than that of any socialist leader in U.S. history.”

Missing from this equation is any understanding of what socialism meant to Debs. If Debs evaluated Sanders’s political record, he would most certainly state, paraphrasing Marx, “if that is socialism, I am no socialist.” For Debs, socialism was the implacable enemy of the capitalist system. If you can find any resemblance between a Sanders speech and what Debs said in his 1912 “Capitalism and Socialism”, you are probably having hallucinations and should make an appointment with a psychiatrist. Debs said, “The Socialist party is the only party in this campaign that stands against the present system and for the rule of the people; the only party that boldly avows itself the party of the working class and its purpose the overthrow of wage-slavery.” He also said:

The Republican, Democratic and Progressive conventions were composed in the main and controlled entirely by professional politicians in the service of the ruling class.

There were no working men and no working women at the Republican convention, the Democratic convention, or the Progressive convention.

These were clearly not working class conventions. Ladies and gentlemen of leisure were in evidence at them all. Wage-slaves would not have been tolerated in their company. They represented the wealth and culture and refinement of society and they were there to applaud and smile approval upon the professional politcians and patriots who were doing their work.

So please, comrades, let’s not take the name of Debs in vain from now on. Furthermore, what does it mean to say that Sanders is now making the term socialism popular among young people? If it is nothing but a synonym for New Deal policies that have doubtful possibility of being reenacted in a transformed American capitalist system, the confusion assumes biblical proportions. Back in the 1960s, when I used to sell the stupid Militant newspaper door to door in Columbia University dormitories as a “socialist newsweekly”, I often had to waste 5 minutes of my time pointing out that it was not what existed in Sweden. Mind you, I don’t think it would be a bad thing to see the kinds of social welfare programs that exist there to be replicated in the USA just as long as it is understood as capitalism with a human face and not meant for the hapless immigrant encroaching on Aryan terrain.

Ethan Young has a rather peculiar idea about what made parties such as Eugene V. Debs’s apparently so irrelevant:

Repeated attempts to introduce a social democratic or labor party that could eclipse the Democratic/Republican duopoly have never succeeded. From 1900 to 1946, the political Left was largely embodied in two parties: Socialist and Communist. Both of these parties fell to the background during the years of the New Deal and World War II.

First, on the SP. It did not “fall to the background”. It was pushed there by the American Trotskyist movement that entered the party with the goal of destroying it as part of the “French turn” that Trotsky encouraged. It was a parasitic tactic to recruit the party’s left wing on the behest of a Leninist sect. Its leader James P. Cannon gloated over its success in leaving the SP as a “dead husk”.

For its part, the CP worked in the opposite direction. Instead of helping to build a broad-based labor party that could confront the Roosevelt administration on a class basis, it threw its considerable weight behind the New Deal and even sabotaged efforts to build a labor party—ironically through its involvement with the American Labor Party.

When the CP made its turn to Roosevelt as part of its obedience to the Comintern’s new Popular Front strategy, it joined with rightwing Social Democrats who had defected from Debs’s party now under the imperfect but generally principled leadership of Norman Thomas in initiating something called the Labor Non-Partisan League. Trade union bureaucrats in the needles trade like Sidney Hillman et al were upset by the SP getting 200,000 votes in the New York City elections of 1935, something they saw as undermining Roosevelt’s campaign the following year. In other words, these were the Demogreens of their day.

In the summer of 1936, the LNPL transformed itself into the American Labor Party with the clear goal of making it possible for a nominally independent party to provide a ballot line for the Democrats after the fashion of the Working Families Party who provided one for the dreadful Andrew Cuomo in 2014. In 1938, the LNPL and the CP backed Michael Igoe for Senator from Illinois. Igoe was a long-time operative in the Kelly-Nash Democratic Party machine in Chicago that the CP regarded as a “friend of labor”.

In an article by Roger Biles on Edward J. Kelly, who was mayor of Chicago from 1933 to 1947, that appears in the collection titled “The Mayors”, we discover how internecine the ties were between a corrupt and brutal DP and its allies on the left:

The Democratic machine also received the support of organized labor, despite the potentially disastrous Memorial Day Massacre of 1937. In that incident, Chicago police fired pistols into a crowd of fleeing picketers, killing ten and wounding thirty more. Kelly staunchly defended the actions of the police, but a well-publicized investigation by a U.S. Senate Committee chaired by Robert LaFollette, Jr., condemned the police action and the city’s blatantly partial investigation. The Democratic leadership so feared retaliation by working-class voters that they met with CIO officials to discuss ways of improving their rap-port. Kelly offered them future exemption from police interference in return for official forgiveness for Kelly’s role in the Memorial Day affair. The CIO worked for the machine in subsequent elections and, amazingly, a steelworker whose eye had been shot out in the 1937 skirmish gave Kelly a radio endorsement during the 1939 mayoral campaign. Thereafter, Chicago police assumed a more circumspect stance during labor-management confrontations, and the CIO took its place among the supporters of Chicago Democracy.”

Notwithstanding its diehard support for FDR and other Democrats far to his right like Edward G. Kelly, the American Labor Party was contested territory between the CPUSA and trade union militants who sought to turn it into an instrument of struggle.

Emile Mazey, a UAW leader whose brother Ernie was in the SWP, was one of them. In 1943 he and other leftists took over the moribund Michigan LNPL with the hope of leveraging it into a Labor Party just as it had given birth to the ALP in NY. They found an ally in the David Dubinsky wing of the ALP that was locked in battle with the Sidney Hillman-CPUSA wing of the party. Hillman, a rightwing social democrat, saw eye to eye with the Stalinists on backing the Democrats. Dubinsky, for his part, was dissatisfied with its subservience to the NY State Democratic Party even though he continued to be a New Deal stalwart. Needless to say, the Hillman-CPUSA faction saw people such as Dubinsky and Mazey as “ultraleft”.

This was a party of 100,000 or so members that held lofty perches in most of the CIO unions. When you have this kind of duplicitous electoral strategy, it is rather misleading to refer to past third party efforts as Quixotic efforts. It was not a question of a hallucinatory knight tilting at windmills. No, comrades, the windmills were real and tilting at us.

After a reasonably accurate chronology of the left’s difficulties since 2000, Young turns his attention to the Sanders campaign and with a purview for defending his running as a Democrat and promising to support the DP nominee unlike the troublesome Ralph Nader:

To avoid the stigma of splitting the Democratic vote and ensuring a Republican victory, Sanders pledged to support whomever won the party’s nominated candidate if he lost the primaries or was squeezed out in the national convention. (Ralph Nader’s run as a Green in 2000 may or may not have led to a tie vote between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and still sits badly with Democratic leftists…)

Of course it sits badly with the Democrats who would not think of blaming themselves for running a lame candidate like Al Gore—the real cause of their loss. At the risk of sounding Talmudic, let me quote Marx and Engels on the question of splitting the vote:

Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers’ candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled. The progress which the proletarian party will make by operating independently in this way is infinitely more important than the disadvantages resulting from the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body. If the forces of democracy take decisive, terroristic action against the reaction from the very beginning, the reactionary influence in the election will already have been destroyed.

–Marx and Engels, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, London, March 1850

If you modify the excerpt above to read “Democrat” rather than “democrat”, it holds up pretty well.

In the penultimate paragraph of Young’s article, he says some things that I’ve heard many times before in a lifetime on the left:

Part of the emerging, reconstructed Left will likely take the form of an anti-neoliberal “Sanders Democrats” wing of the Democratic Party. This could directly challenge party centrists in every state, and change the direction of policy battles in Congress and in state and city governments. It would also further challenge the view on the Left that holds to a purist stance of permanently attacking the Democrats as a class enemy. This tendency, which sees the formation of a third party as always the immediate priority in electoral politics, claims that its opponents are careerists or naive liberals. However, the most widely held view among independent leftists is an “inside/outside” strategy, favoring independent candidates where the power of the party machine excludes progressive reformers. Some die-hards of the other camp have been swayed by the upsurge for Sanders.

Let me try to sort this out and fill in some background. Ethan Young was a member of the Line of March group whose leader Irwin Silber, like Ethan, used to work for the weekly radical newspaper The Guardian. It emerged out of the New Communist Movement (ie. Maoism) in the 1970s that Max Elbaum wrote about in “Revolution in the Air”.

Unlike the CPUSA which by then had calcified into a wing of the DP (recently it endorsed Hillary Clinton), the Maoists were more discreet. They were for an “inside/outside” approach that might at times opt for supporting Nader (outside) and at other times backing outlier DP campaigns such as Jesse Jackson’s in 1984 and 1988, Harold Washington for mayor of Chicago and now Bernie Sanders. Each time we are told that there was “something different happening”. Although Young was not a Progressive for Obama in 2008, some of the people who did declare for the “transformative” candidate came out of the New Communist Movement—including Carl Davidson and Bill Fletcher Jr.

As I said early on this article, I have seen these arguments many times in the past including in 1984 when members of the Line of March and the Maoist Communist Workers Party (now both defunct) argued in favor of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador becoming part of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition campaign in the DP primaries in 1984.

Then, like now, there was a tremendous leap of faith that a DP candidate dwelling on the far left reaches of the party could help to either transform it or lead to a radical split after the fashion of Lincoln leaving the Whigs. Indeed, there was much more of a movement in the foundations of the Jackson campaign than there is in the Sanders campaign today. Jackson was a pole of attraction for many grass roots radicals who understandably gravitated to a candidate whose program was inspired by Fred Hampton, the martyred Black Panther.

But once the primaries were over and when Walter Mondale became the candidate, the “movement” evaporated like the morning dew. Even when Jackson ran again in 1988, with arguably double the impact, nothing came out of that either.

I can understand the moth-like attraction to Bernie Sanders’s flame. People on the left feel beaten down and isolated. So when Sanders, speaking in the name of socialism, wins a primary in Michigan, the juices start flowing.

Unlike some on the left, I don’t quibble over Sanders’s programmatic decisions such as backing the continued use of drone missile attacks or even his refusal to identify capitalism as the underlying problem.

My problem is with his decision to run as a Democrat. This is a party that dates back to 1828, making it the world’s oldest active party. Now I may be old but I am not old enough to have been around when its first presidential candidate Andrew Jackson forced the Cherokees to leave their homeland and walk to Oklahoma in the genocidal “trail of tears”. But I can read the history books, starting with Howard Zinn, to know that it is the enemy of working people. For those who write sophisticated arguments for continuing to back its candidates—even on the far left—I can only pray for your misguided souls.

March 9, 2016

Videofreex; Activist State

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:01 pm

This morning I watched two documentaries about the sixties that were structured around the reminiscences of senior citizens (like me) who were radicals back then. One titled “Here Come the Videofreex” opens today at the IFC Center in NY and tells the story of the pioneering efforts of a video-making collective of the same name to record some of the most important events and personalities of the period using the Sony CV-2400 Porta Pak, the first hand-held camcorder to hit the market. The other is a Youtube video titled “Activist State” that allows veterans of the San Francisco State student strike of 1968 to reflect on the struggle and its lingering impact on student activism. It was made by Jonathan Craig, who during his junior year of college in 2008-2009 developed and produced it on behalf of the broadcast department at San Francisco State University.

Sometimes when I am watching films such as these, I have to step back and consider how far we have travelled chronologically. With the Videofreex collective getting started in 1968, the same year as the SF student strike, you are talking about a nearly half-century in the past. It would be around the same timespan as between the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the events that the Videofreex, SF State activists and my entry into the Trotskyist movement. I try to imagine what it would have been like for Lenin and his band of merry revolutionaries to have camcorders on hand in the Smolny Institute or for Farrell Dobbs to have them in Minneapolis in 1934. It makes my head spin.

Part of the pleasure of watching “Here Come the Videofreex” is seeing how much the elderly members of the collective appear to have the same counter-cultural and radical sensibility as they had in their youth. Not a repentant figure among them, least of all David Cort who was the founder of the group by virtue of being able to buy Sony equipment on the cheap after the commercial video recording company he worked for went under. Although he has put on a few pounds, he still wears his hair long.

Cort soon gathered around him a group of like-minded people with technical experience, including a woman who was being recruited by CBS executive Don West to provide an “alternative” youth oriented dimension to his network.

As might be expected, the romance between mammon and the movement came to a quick end after the network preferred to show footage they recorded of people in a procession past Fred Hampton’s coffin in 1969 rather than an interview they did with him when he was alive. That interview and ones with Abby Hoffman are priceless. Since most of “Videofreex” consists of archival footage they shot in the sixties and seventies, the film is indispensable as history as well as oral history with the principals providing voiceover looking back in retrospect.

The problem for the Videofreex was how to get an audience for their videos, especially after they bailed out on CBS. Abby Hoffman had a brainstorm to set up portable broadcasting studios in panel trucks that could be deployed around New York. Like many of his ideas, this was impractical.

The group finally found a place where they could connect with the people, even if it was on a small scale. Using money from an arts grant, they moved to Lanesville in the northern Catskills and rented a big and somewhat dilapidated house. From there, they launched a pirate TV channel where they recorded the quotidian events of the local population who welcomed the long-haired young people with open arms.

Check out “Here Come the Videofreex” if you want to understand the sixties as well as have a good time.

Like the Columbia student strike that occurred the same year, the SF strike involved some of the same issues. If Columbia was bent on colonizing Morningside park for a new gym against the wishes of Harlem, SF State administrators had dragged their feet over implementing an ethnic studies department. Perhaps because SF State had more of a proletarian orientation so to speak, there were far more non-white students in the leadership of the movement than at Columbia, where Mark Rudd and other whites played the major role. For example, a Chicano student named Roger Alvarado represented the Third World Liberation Front that provided most of the leadership of the struggle.

While I cannot gauge the exact weight of SDS in the student strike, I have always been under the impression that the faction associated with the Maoist Progressive Labor Party was an important part of the strike leadership as well. One of its members was Hari Dillon who would spend a year in prison for trumped up charges on rioting, etc. I got to know Hari well when he went to work for Tecnica in 1989 to head up our expansion into Africa. After Tecnica folded, Hari became the Executive Director of the Vanguard Foundation, a leftist philanthropy whose funds he misused in the pursuit of a fraudulent investment scheme and personal luxuries landed him in prison once again. I was touched to see the young Hari Dillon in 2:41 of Craig’s video.

March 8, 2016

2016 Socially Relevant Film Festival previews: part two

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:36 pm

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As opening night of the 2016 Socially Relevant Film Festival nears, I want to share my take on three outstanding films that I was asked to judge as a member of the documentary awards jury. (An earlier review can be read here.)

The first is “Beneath the Olive Tree”, a film about the Greek Civil War focused on a group of women now in their eighties who were exiled to island prisons where they were tortured by the former cops and soldiers of the pro-Nazi regime that the revolutionary anti-fascist movement overthrew during WWII. The civil war began in 1946 after Churchill and Truman decided that the left in Greece that had lost thousands of lives in struggle were not to be trusted in the reshaping of the country as a NATO vassal. As the film states in the outset, many of the problems facing Greece today are rooted in the trauma suffered just seventy years ago.

The title of the film derives from journals that women prisoners buried near an olive tree during the time that they were imprisoned on Trikeri island. Filmmaker Stavroula Toska, whose mother was a child during this period, never understood why she never spoke about how it impacted her. It was only when she learned that her grandmother had been one of the imprisoned women that the pained silence became understandable. A key part of the drama of this wrenching documentary is how Toska’s mother managed to come to terms with the trauma and transcend it in the course of telling her daughter about her memories.

As soon as the allies decided that the popular forces stood in the way of consolidating an anti-Communist but “democratic” Europe, they imposed a regime that differed little from the one that had been overthrown. Leftists were forced to sign a statement renouncing Communism, even if they were not party members. Like the Nazis, the rightwing government favored by Churchill cast a wide net often jailing young people who had simply carried supplies to the guerrillas who were often just the sons, daughters or spouses of those fightine.

All of the women interviewed in the film demonstrate the kind of unrepentant belief in social justice that led them to support the resistance 70 years ago and today. Ironically, Alex Tsipras, who was the only party leader in Greece willing to speak about the repression, told Toskas that Syriza supports a new textbook for Greek students that would reveal the great crimes of Truman and Churchill’s Vichy style dictatorship that are barely discussed in high school. With Germany playing the role today that England played in 1946, it is open to question whether Tsipras can do anything to overturn the country’s virtual colonial status  except mandate a more truthful history textbook—if that.

Towards the end of the film the women interviewed in the film tour Trikeri island and reminisce about life in a concentration camp used by a “democracy”. It evokes the tour that Armenians took in eastern Anatolia in the very fine documentary “100 Years Later” that is also being shown as part of SR 2016. Put both on your calendar for an enlightening take on how people maintain the spirit of resistance against the barbarisms of the 20th century.

“Beneath the Olive Tree” can be seen at Bowtie Cinema, Wednesday 3/16 6 PM. Full schedule information is here: http://www.ratedsrfilms.org/.

When I used to visit my wife up in Albany when she was a graduate student, I always had trouble wrapping my head around the architecture of downtown Albany as the bus entered the city. The soulless architecture had a certain fascist redolence that was in keeping with the cold and foreboding university architecture itself, an expression of 20th century modernism that haunted capital cities in the USA, Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia alike. It was an attempt to project the strength and permanence of regimes that in two out of three cases turned out to be fairly short-lived. Our best hope is that the third will join them in the dustbin of history before too long.

The government center known as Empire State Plaza in Albany that dominates the downtown was one of the gifts that Nelson Rockefeller bestowed on the city during the time he was Governor. This “liberal” Republican decided that the city’s south side with its largely Italian population was a slum that had to be condemned and removed. Using the same dictatorial powers that Robert Moses made infamous, Rockefeller used eminent domain to condemn neighborhoods that hardly matched the descriptions the governor used.

In a series of interviews with people who lived on Albany’s south side up until their buildings began being demolished in 1965, we learn in Mary Paley’s “The Neighborhood that Disappeared” that this was a community united by food, music, religion and above all a sense of solidarity that has largely evaporated in most urban settings. As one interviewee put it, if an elder sitting on a stoop saw a kid stepping out of line, he’d report it to his or her parents. Nowadays it is a cop’s bullet that enforces discipline.

Rockefeller got the idea for the complex after Princess Beatrix visited the city. Afterwards, the governor rued that “the city did not look as I think the Princess thought it was going to”. So what was it supposed to look like? Rockefeller believed it should look more like Brasilia, another one of those cities like Ankara and Stalingrad that incorporated an esthetic that had more in common with a cinder block.

As might be expected, Albany’s mayor Erastus Corning was a Democrat who promised the residents that he would resist their urban removal and then folded like a two-dollar suitcase afterwards (besides making millions as a businessman benefiting from the project). All of the wonderful little Italian bakeries and restaurants were demolished, replaced by an underground city filled with McDonalds restaurants and the like. In a July 2, 1976 article for the NY Times, architecture critic Paul Goldberger summarized his view of the Empire State Plaza as follows:

Ultimately, of course, one realizes that the entire mall complex is not so much a vision of the future as of the past. The ideas here were dead before they left the drawing board, and every design decision, from the space allocations to the over-all concept, emerges from an outdated notion of what modern architecture, not to mention modern government, should stand for.

The mall may look like Buck Rogers, but it is important to remember that the Buck Rogers comic-book visions were all drawn decades ago. Now they have become a comfortable part of our popular past, and it is only a tragically misguided kind of thinking that could turn them into icons for the present.

Truer words were never written.

“The Neighborhood that Disappeared” can be seen at Bowtie Cinema, Friday 3/18 6PM. Full schedule information is here: http://www.ratedsrfilms.org/.

At the beginning of Davison Mudzingwa’s “Lost Tongue”, we learn that of the 60,000 languages now being spoken today, half of them will be extinct by the end of the century, something that might evoke nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders if you identify with the crypto-fascist mindset that gave birth to the Empire State Plaza

The language threatened in this documentary is N!uu, a language spoken by the Khomani-San people from the Kalahari region of South Africa, commonly known as the Bushmen. They predate all other peoples in the country with evidence of their tools being excavated from a site in KwaZulu-Natal that is 44,000 years old.

I am not exactly sure how to pronounce N!uu but the language is replete with the “clicking” sound we associate with the Zulu and Xhosa languages for which it possibly served as a base. As is the case with most indigenous peoples, the San were forcibly assimilated by the Boers and today speak Afrikaner. Except for elders like Ouma Katrina, there are few who grew up speaking San. Determined that the language continue, she set up a rudimentary school and enlisted a young San woman named Helena Steenkamp to become her apprentice. As is the case with African-Americans, the victims of white oppression ended up with the surnames of their oppressors.

As someone who has written fairly extensively about American Indian issues, the language question is very close to my heart. If genocide is defined by the UN includes the systematic destruction of a people’s culture—including its language—there is little doubt that all those who believe in human rights should identify with and support the efforts of people like Ouma Katrina and Helena Steenkamp.

Another thing worth noting is that the principals involved in making this film are black South Africans who obviously understand such a need as reflected in the statement that can be found on the film’s website:

Imagine if you could not speak your own language and all you do is speak the language of the people who once persecuted and exploited your community.

Imagine if there were only three people in the entire community or world who could speak the language and you are not one of them.

Imagine if these people were elderly, reaching the end of their lives but there is only a small window for you to reclaim your true identity and history and unlock the hidden secret clicks of your ancient language. The language of your forefathers.

Fellow human beings, this is the dire situation facing the Khomanl San – a deeply marginalized indigenous minority in South Africa who centuries have endured slavery, colonialism, land dispossession, persecution and cultural genocide. Along with this untold suffering, their ancient language — N!uu — underwent systematic attack from colonialists who forced them to speak their own language — Afrikaans.

As is so often the case today, documentary filmmakers are the conscience of a society and a true vanguard in political terms. With young Black South Africans making the effort on behalf of South Africa’s most downtrodden, there are reasons to hold out hope that a better future is possible in a country that was once a shining example of how to struggle for social justice.

“The Neighborhood that Disappeared” can be seen at Bowtie Cinema, Thursday 3/17 10PM. Full schedule information is here: http://www.ratedsrfilms.org/.

March 6, 2016

The Revolution continues chant the Syrian revolutionaries

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:41 pm

On Friday March 4, 2016 massive popular demonstrations throughout the liberated areas of Syria occurred under the slogan “The revolution continues”. More than 100 protests were recorded on this day, according to various opposition figures. In the demonstrations, protesters were chanting the original songs of the revolution: “The people are one and united”, “Death rather than humiliation”, “The People want the downfall of the regime”, “The Syrian people want freedom”, “Revolution for dignity and Freedom”, etc….The spirit of the beginning of the revolution could be felt with democratic and non-sectarian slogans, and as a protester wrote on his placard: “the doors of the peaceful revolution reopen”. The Syrian revolutionary flag was seen everywhere. It is interesting to note that salafist djihadist military forces and their symbols were absent from these popular demonstrations, while Jabhat Al-Nusra soldiers organised a small demonstration against the massive popular demonstration in in the city Ma’aret al-Naaman, Idlib, and chanted slogans against democracy and secularism, and for an Islamic state. They also told the demonstrators on the squares to wear the full niqab as real men go to fight on the military front.During the past week, protests against the Assad regime were also organised in Aleppo, Damascus countryside (Daraya and Dhumeir), Da’el and the countryside of Quneytra. As a protester said in the besieged town of Daraya, “Of course we’re going to seize this opportunity (to protest) because the rest of the time there were constant barrel bombs and shelling”. In the free neighborhood of Aleppo, mass demonstration erupted the second day of the truce, chanting: “The people want the downfall of the regime”. Another protest occurred in Aleppo countryside, Al-Atareb, on February 27, demanding for opposition military factions to unite under the Free Syrian Army banner, and express their solidarity with the villages that are being bombed amid the truce, while calling on the Jabhat Al Nusra to exit their city. Civilians and activists in Al-Atareb declared during the preparation of the Friday protest their will to revive the peaceful Syrian revolution, which demanded freedom and justice and dignity according to them. Many protesters across the country express a similar will to encourage peaceful demonstrations as a way to come back to the spirit of the revolution.

Source: The Revolution continues chant the Syrian revolutionaries

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