The (Soviet) Patriot

Noting the local release of the hagiographic documentary Trumbo, DCist writes that while he may "not necessarily [be] a household name when it comes to American patriots, novelist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo earned the title." Oh brother. Perhaps the commenters can debate what it means to be "a patriot," but I suspect that we can all agree that shilling for Joseph Stalin isn't a necessary qualification. No need for to revisit Trumbo's love affair with totalitarianism when historian and Red Star Over Hollywood author Ron Radosh recently did it for us. There are so very many terrific examples of his lazy and dishonest Stalinophilia, but this seems a good place to start:

Trumbo also bragged about his role in keeping anti-Communist films from being made. He had defended Stalin as "one of the democratic leaders of the world," and was proud to have helped keep Hollywood from filming Trotsky's "so-called" biography of Stalin, as well as books by James T. Farrell, Victor Kravchenko, and Arthur Koestler—all of which he called "untrue" and "reactionary." In 1954 he wrote a fellow blacklisted writer of the Communist party's "fine tradition .  .  . that whenever a book or play or film is produced which is harmful to the best interests of the working class, that work and its author should and must be attacked in the sharpest possible terms."

Read Radosh's entire review of Trumbo here.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    This illustrates the problem with the way we tend to view the various Red Scares today. We want to make heroes of the people who resisted oppressive actions by the government during those times, but some of those people really were working against us in conjunction with the Soviets.

    Our government got crazy and did things it shouldn't have done--in spades--but there actually was a great deal of shenanigans going on with some of our citizens and our good comrades in the Soviet Union. I think it's hard for us today to appreciate how distressing it is to have your own people working with a hostile foreign power to foment rebellion, discontent, etc. Not that I suggest we lock up and silence everyone who has hostile viewpoints (provided that they aren't doing anything violent and/or criminal), but it's a troubling thing to endure.

  • ||

    To many on the Left, being a communist who supported Stalin was patriotic. Attacking anything to the right of left-of-center is patriotic. Attacking America is patriotic.

    McCarthy should have left this guy alone. Whatever crap Hollywood wanted to produce was up to Hollywood alone. But that doesn't detract from the fact that Trumbo was a unpatriotic anti-American asshole.

  • ||

    fine tradition .  .  . that whenever a book or play or film is produced which is harmful to the best interests of the working class, that work and its author should and must be attacked in the sharpest possible terms

    So was this guy at least self-aware enough to be (unhappy but) resigned to being blacklisted, or was he one of those douches who thinks that it's only okay when his team did it?

  • ||

    Johnny Got His Gun is still good.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Who art thou, brother? Anyway, thanks for linking to Radosh's review, which is excellent. He points out that Trumbo, while a shameless Stalinist while the big guy was alive, lived to be embarrassed by it all.

    According to Radosh, 'Dalton Trumbo, far more complicated and nuanced than this film which claims to honor him, condemned the Communist party for exploiting the Ten "for every left-wing cause that came down the pike." They had become adornments for the Communist party: "noble losers."'

  • ||

    What the hell does anti-American even mean? Against democracy? or an economic system (or values..whatever that means.

    Or patriotism?

    I think that depends on what one's vision of America is.

    Trumbo sounds like an ass. But then anyone that shouts "Anti-American" and "unpatriotic" at me usually brings out the urge to lay a nice fat roundhouse punch across the side of their head. Yeah, I'm sick of the overkill and incoherent use of both of those phrases. America, love it or leave it...idiotic. Translated, it means I don't agree with you so you have to leave.

  • ||

    Pro Libertate,

    I know you didn't intend this, but your words demonstrate a large part of the problem.

    The attitude that puts "rebellion" and "discontent" in the same list of horribles is the one that led to so many innocent, harmless people having their careers ruined, and also the legitimate act of denouncing active, Moscow-dirrected Stalinists being discreditted.

    Isn't it the Communists, after all, who worked so hard to try to convinice Americans of good intentions that those two concepts were bound together?

  • ||

    capelza,
    Well, when a country is founded as a democratic republic grounded in classically liberal, capitalistic roots then yes; being against democracy and an economic system can generally be construed as "anti-American".

    I will however agree with you that the majority of "Americuhh, love it or leave" it folks have no clue of what it means to be American.

  • ||

    The complication is when people are working for a hostile government to do bad things here. I suppose my viewpoint is that even working for the bad guys should be legally permissible, provided that we're only talking words, not overt criminal or traitorous acts. None of this is easy to deal with as a free society, but the Russians certainly weren't doing this for our own good, either.

    Red Scare bad; helping the Reds bad, too.

  • Les||

    I seems the article is more critical of the film-makers than of Trumbo, who, as Alan notes above, didn't think that much of his own actions.

  • ||

    The complication is when people are working for a hostile government to do bad things here.

    Agreed. And then there's the even greater complication of when people working for a hostile government do good things here, like protest Jim Crow.

    It was a tricky situation, and our war-ravaged, paranoid society handled it with all the dexterity of a four-year-old.

  • ||

    capelza,

    Many on the right have overly praised blind patriotism so that the word no longer has meaning. But that does not detract from the fact than many on the left have done the same by attacking patriotism. To them someone who who loves their country is supremely evil. "Patriot" has become an insult. It has become so bad that hatred of America is a core value of the far left.

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    The very thought of Trumbo's politics incline me to check out and watch an Elia Kazan movie tonight. Still, Trumbo was a first-rate screenwriter however terrible his politics may have been.

    While I'm here, a question for joe. Seriously, I have no idea what the answer is, but how many "innocent, harmless people" did have their careers ruined? As far as Hollywood goes, I'll happily grant that the Hollywood Ten, etc. should not have had their careers harmed because of pressure from the government, but I doubt many, if any of them were either innocent or harmless.

  • ||

    Kwix...I agree mostly.

    However, and this comes from a conversation I had with someone who swings hard survivalist ala Randy Weaver.

    He was born in this land, the hills, the trees, the water, etc, etc...he didn't choose the American system, but it is imposed on him and why should he have to leave because of it. And his family had been in this land before it was the United States of America...as had mine, come to think of it.

    Extreme case, but it got me to thinking. I'm a play relatively well with others kind of person...but I have come to think about what really defines an American. I just don't need someone else telling me, seeing as I was born here,as have hundreds of years (and longer with the Indian blood), long before the admittedly great Declaration of Independence.

    I would defend my home..because that is what it is. But political and economic models change over time. Does that make sense? Am I any less American because I don't care for the political system? Note: this is hypothetical. Our system is pretty good compared to others in the world.

    Not that relates directly to Trumbo..though perhaps it does.

  • Jack Braun||

    how many "innocent, harmless people" did have their careers ruined?

    Mine. And Earl's. And poor, poor Blythe.

  • ||

    Wanting America to turn into the Soviet Union under Stalin is anti-American. It would have violated everything this country was founded on. It would have shattered our social contract.

    They should not have been jailed, they should not have been blacklisted, but that doesn't mean they didn't dream of in imposing the slavery of communism on others. That, at the very least, makes them assholes.

  • ||

    Keeping anti-Communist anything films from being made should be an automatic disqualifier from being a "patriot".

  • SIV||

    The post WWII "Red Scare" yet is another good example of American exceptionalism.In most anti-communist nations these people would have disappeared and/or gotten a bullet in the head.
    Here they lost their cushy jobs.

  • ||

    SIV..yeah, Britain and France were lining the dirty reds up against the wall!

  • ||

    And then there's the even greater complication of when people working for a hostile government do good things here, like protest Jim Crow.


    Well, I'm not suggesting that protesters should be locked up--whether I agree or disagree with their cause--but the fact that the Soviets wanted to inflame racial tensions makes it clear that doing things at their direction wasn't a good thing. Certainly, the Russians weren't even close to the reason that 99.9% of people were protesting social inequities, so it's not like they came here and made us see the light. They were hoping for civil unrest and maybe even revolution or civil war. Which just goes to show how little they understood the U.S.

    Incidentally, I think our bark during the Red Scare(s) was worse than our bite. We did things I'm unhappy about and would vehemently oppose today, but we didn't round up people and lock them up indefinitely, for the most part. It's not like they were scary Japanese people or Muslims, after all ☺

  • ed||

    Keeping anti-Communist/anything films from being made should be an automatic disqualifier from being a "patriot".

    He didn't do it singlehandedly. And film projects are stillborn every day, for many reasons. The only thing I care about is whether elected officials are culpable, and whether they use the government's monopoly on force to censor individuals.

  • B||

    "I will however agree with you that the majority of "Americuhh, love it or leave" it folks have no clue of what it means to be American."

    Please explain to us, you brilliant genius, exactly what it means to be an American, because as we all know, whatever you write will be the absolutely definitive answer.

  • ||

    Since when where Britain and France anti-communist nations? They nationalized industries right and left in the 50s and instituted massive welfare states that still exist. Just because they didn't have a central Soviet, doesn't make them bastions of free market capitalism.

  • ||

    Sure they should have been blacklisted. Anyone think it would be wrong if publishers were to blacklist publishing the coming tomes from Bush and Cheney? Or if the contractors around Crawford refused to deal with ex-Pres. Bush? Private persons can blacklist whomever they wish to.

  • SIV||

    capelza,

    Everyone in our hemisphere(excepting those pussy Canadians)was.

  • ||

    Sugarfree...what anti-communist nations would SIV be refeering to then? I was trying to be nice. Otheriwse I kept thinking of places like Chile, El Salvador, etc. Anti-communist yeas, but democratic anti-communists? So yeah, we are exceptional in that we didn't bury them in the walls of the soccer stadium or unmarked graves in the jungle..but do we want to be touting that as a good thing? 'Hey, we're exceptional because at least we don't have mass killings!"


    France and Britain are democracies, btw. Just a reminder. He didn't say bastions of free market capitalism, he said anti-communist. Which I tend to think democracies are. Unless the people vote for it of course.

  • ||

    "Johnny Got His Gun is still good."


    Agreed.

  • ||

    "fine tradition .  .  . that whenever a book or play or film is produced which is harmful to the best interests of the working class, that work and its author should and must be attacked in the sharpest possible terms."



    Communism = Scientology?!

  • Billy Beck||

    "But then anyone that shouts 'Anti-American' and 'unpatriotic' at me usually brings out the urge to lay a nice fat roundhouse punch across the side of their head."

    Oh, yeah? Well, that's about what happens to me every time I see or hear some waterheaded commie start rhapsodizing about "universal health care" of any of innumerable other sorts of fuckin' horseshit.

    Americans revere freedom. This is not difficult, except to people who've lost their principles.

  • ||

    "Americans revere freedom"

    Except to give it away to their own government because they fear some nebulous "threat"..because we all know...giving up you freedoms is a good thing, because that's supposedly what the terrorists want to take away from us. come on any commerical fishing vessel..we now have to have a 24/7 tracking device on us and they wanted a fucking 4 day notice if when the boat would go fishing..ha! But even DHS realised that was undoable.


    Americans may say they revere freedom, but mostly they don't seem to mind giving it up to keep themselves "safe".

    Someone want to talk about universal health care or abortion fine. But wank on about "freedom"...you tool.

  • Billy Beck||

    "Americans may say they revere freedom, but..."

    Oh, how I long for people who can pay attention.

    I'm the one who said that, dummy. Go read it again for plain English. If you can do that, then the light of what I said might just begin to shine the fuck in on you.

  • ||

    Man am I glad the Cold War is over.

  • Vladimir Putin||

    Not so fast, comrade.

  • ||

    Trumbo was indeed a gifted writer and an interesting guy (if not always a sympathetic one - OK, he was an asshole), whose life would make for compelling bio material. Sadly, it looks like instead of a well-rounded biography we get more of the usual agenda-driven puffey (and anti-puffery in turn).

    Jesus - isn't anyone interested in just writing a good book anymore...

  • ||

    Johnny Got His Gun is still good.

    Just like R. Kelly's music.

  • ||

    It was a tricky situation, and our war-ravaged, paranoid society handled it with all the dexterity of a four-year-old.

    The soviet union handled rebels and discontents by putting them in the gulag or putting a hole in their heads.

    Putting people on a list then asking them to talk in front of congress is by far a very small evil....hell congress still does that with oil and cigarette company executives.

    I wonder when those poor bastards will get lefties like you to proclaim how childishly our government treats them.

  • ||

    Hey, we're exceptional because at least we don't have mass killings!

    If what the communists did was the norm then even what the non-democratic anti-commies did can be marked as exceptionally humane.

    What the US did would be exceptionally exceptional.

    You could also use history as the norm. I can't really imagine how 15th century China treated its discontents....or the roman empire for that matter. Again we find how the US reacted to be exceptionally humane.

  • ||

    Did somebody say something about a complicated problem handled with the intellectual dexterity of a four-year-old?

    The Red Scare was bad.

    Yeah?!? Well, do you know what they did in Russia...you...you....LEFTY!!!

    Deep, man. Truly an imposing intellect, matched only by a refined moral sensibility.

  • MR||

    15th century China? Roman empire? Why, it is an easy question if I've ever seen one.

    They didn't do squat about their 'discontents'. Until those actually rebelled, then they were promptly killed.

    The old (pre-XIX century) oppresive governments were much much much milder than modern liberal democracies, you know...

    (not that many kings would be above slaying their opponents - they surely weren't - but they simply got not enough power to go after people merely disliking them)

  • ||

    """Americans revere freedom. This is not difficult, except to people who've lost their principles."""

    I really, really have to disagree. Americans revere banning things they don't want you to do. Freedom is about us chosing for ourselves, not putting the government in power to make those choices. From smoking cigarettes, to wearing a seatbelt, or eating trans fats. The current trend in America is NOT freedom, it's the restriction of anything not politically correct.

  • Billy Beck||

    {sigh} Another one who doesn't get it.

    Listen to me, kids: these are not Americans that you're talking about. You are not paying attention.

    It's France here now.

  • dpsc||

    Pro Libertate says: "Incidentally, I think our bark during the Red Scare(s) was worse than our bite. We did things I'm unhappy about and would vehemently oppose today, but we didn't round up people and lock them up indefinitely, for the most part."

    That's true, but it was still a rather unpleasant thing for people wrongly subjected to it (and for people rightly subjected to it, I imagine, but that's another issue).

    My grandfather was apparently (he died before I was born, so this is all at second-hand) blackballed (he was an aide to a Senator at the time) and the family was poor as a result- my mom has always claimed that she breaks bones so easily because of poor nutrition at that time (she's broken dozens in her life).

    I'm quite sure that my granddad did not need to be blacklisted- he was a peculiar man, by all accounts (he put down "Zen Buddhist" on the space for religion on his University admission forms, which was apparently not the thing to do in the 30s), and was more concerned with abstractions than with people, but I don't think he was a Soviet agent.

    He did eventually re-enter the political world, and rose to a fairly high appointed position, for his age, before dying very young, likely as a result of exposure to radiation he suffered as part of his work. Certainly pretty mild stuff by the standards of political purges, but still unpleasant.

  • dpsc||

    That said, I do believe that the Soviets were doingtheir best to infiltrate Western governments, and that they were much more successful at it than anyone would have believed until recently.

  • Billy Beck||

    Without the least doubt, an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury was a Soviet agent. Harry Dexter White worked for GRU (military intelligence directorate).

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement