The FBI Investigated Ray Bradbury

The bureau had heard the science fiction writer might be a Communist.


Marcus Baram reports:

Cervantes, on the other hand, was definitely a red.

Late science-fiction legend Ray Bradbury was actively investigated by the FBI during the 1960s for suspected Communist leanings, according to FBI files released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Huffington Post.

Bradbury aroused the suspicion of the FBI due to his outspoken criticism of the U.S. government and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was investigating real and suspected communists in America. In a full-page ad in Variety, Bradbury had denounced the committee's probes as "claptrap and nonsense" and several informants in Hollywood also voiced their suspicions about the acclaimed writer to the bureau.

Bradbury's suspected activity was reported to the bureau by screenwriter Martin Berkeley, who claimed that science fiction writers were prone to being Communists and that the genre was uniquely capable of indoctrinating readers in Communist ideologies. "He noted that some of Bradbury's stories have been definitely slanted against the United States and its capitalistic form of government," according to the file.

A popular writer like Bradbury was positioned to "spread poison" about U.S. political institutions, Berkeley told the FBI. "Informant stated that the general aim of these science fiction writers is to frighten the people into a state of paralysis or psychological incompetence bordering on hysteria which would make it very possible to conduct a Third World War in which the American people would seriously believe [sic] could not be won since their morale had been seriously destroyed."

After conducting some more interviews, the bureau decided it had no evidence that Bradbury had ever been a member of the Communist Party. And that's how America avoided World War III.

Elsewhere in Reason: Tributes to Bradbury by Peter Suderman, Brian Doherty, and Charles C. Johnson.

Elsewhere not in Reason: Junior G-man Martin Berkeley's IMDb page.

NEXT: Warships Powered by Algae: Katherine Mangu-Ward Discusses Military Spending on Alternative Fuels on CNBC

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.

  1. Hey FBI: maybe Fahrenheit 451 was a little bit about you.

    I honestly don’t see anywhere in Bradbury’s writing where you could peg him as a Communist, but maybe I haven’t read enough Bradbury. Just a lot of him.

    1. I don’t recall anything at all in his works that would make him even sound a little receptive to communism or totalitarianism. And I’ve read most of his published works.

      1. Death is a Lonely Business?

        1. Not commie and also published way too late to have triggered the FBI’s fears.

          1. That was a joke, ProL. Think of the subject matter.

            1. I don’t remember anything commie. It was basically a detective story, right?

  2. Everybody knows that Heinlein was the real threat to America. Duh.

    1. science fiction writers were prone to being Communists Libertarian and that the genre was uniquely capable of indoctrinating readers in Communists Libertarian ideologies.

      From the FBI file on Heinlein…

  3. “Informant stated that the general aim of these science fiction writers is to frighten the people into a state of paralysis or psychological incompetence bordering on hysteria

    This is the job of DHS; no outsourcing permitted.

  4. Bradbury’s suspected activity was reported to the bureau by screenwriter Martin Berkeley, who claimed that science fiction writers were prone to being Communists…

    Um…that part isn’t so far off, is it?

    Finally, and most intriguingly, there seems to be an odd affinity between radical politics and fantastic fiction. There are a number of writers of fantasy and SF who have serious left politics of some stripe. Iain Banks is a socialist, Ken MacLeod and Steven Brust are Trotskyists, Ursula Le Guin and Michael Moorcock are left anarchists, and there are plenty of others, right the way back to William Morris and before.


    Yeah, the Socialist Review saw a connection, too. And the rest of that article about SciFi and Marxism, etc. is pretty interesting.

    I’m not saying that the House Un-American Activities Committee was justified in what it did–I won’t even try to justify its existence. But sometimes when people see it mentioned, they come away with the idea that our inept reactions to communism means communism wasn’t really a problem or a threat. But it was both a problem and a threat!

    It’s just that House Un-American Activities Committee and the FBI doing surveillance on dissenters was a rotten, ineffective, and stupid way of meeting that threat.

    Sort of like how frisking children at the airport isn’t a good way to fight terrorism. Doesn’t mean terrorism isn’t a threat.

    1. The problem, Ken, is that HUAC was chasing communists as if they were all spies and saboteurs. Which is a problem for two reasons:

      1) It wasn’t and shouldn’t be a crime to be a communist, write communist novels or movies, be a member of the CPUSA or fellow travel. If we put people in jail for having stupid economic and political beliefs it would never end until the whole country was a prison.

      2) It was a distraction from the hunt for the real spies and/or saboteurs, who, by the 1950s, knew better than to be public communists. Anyone HUAC “caught” wasn’t the problem.

      1. Red peril! Red peril! Get Kurt Vonnegut!

      2. I wouldn’t defend HUAC with a ten foot pole.

        But just because they investigated something, doesn’t mean it wasn’t communist or that communism wasn’t a threat.

        And you’re absolutely right about how much of a non-threat many real communists were. It’s like going after Muslims, today, and equating them all with terrorists–but it was even worse back then for communists.

        Having said that, the Rosenbergs were for real.

        It’s just like with terrorism. We don’t have to pretend Al Qaeda isn’t real, or that there aren’t terrorist out there who are out to get us. Some of them would kill as many Americans as possible if they were free to do so, and they’re trained to do exactly that.

        Still, I’m not a coward, and I’m not willing to give up my freedom for total security. Doesn’t mean I have to pretend that terrorism isn’t a threat. It just requires the courage to say, “Yeah, I see terrorism is a threat–and I choose freedom over false promises of total security”.

      3. 50 years from now, people on whatever passes for a board like this in the future will probably talk about our overreactions to Al Qaeda today. They’ll be right–so long as they don’t try to sell the idea that Al Qaeda wasn’t really a threat.

        Al Qaeda was a threat. And so was communism. And if the communists thought they could have won by nuking us and killing us all? They’d have done so. And there were numerous science fiction writers who thought the communists were the good guys. Not the guys who were actually running communism–but they thought the ideology was the good one. And that the USA was corrupted by capitalism and evil.


  5. I suspect the FBI was being trolled by a guy who probably had some kind of beef with Bradbury, and didn’t like science fiction in general. I’m picturing some old geezer bitching about “those damn kids today, with their rock and roll and their science fiction books”.

    1. Well, that and all the communist science fiction writers, too.

  6. I would say that Bradbury was solidly in the anti-communist science fiction trend, particularly stuff like It Came from Outer Space, but also stuff like The Fall of the House of Usher.

  7. I’m coming late to this party but needed to punctuate with some sensibility.
    Ray Bradbury was a right leaning, small government, defender of liberty.
    This is not an, “I think” or “as I read him…” It is what he was.
    As an ironic aside, he thought Reagan was iconic and felt he was deservedly so.
    Is there anything that shows how utterly looney, paranoid and totalitarian the US government was and is in varying respects?
    To imagine that there were, and still are, little freaky, mindless agents scurrying about the country checking out political persuasions.
    What a screwed up world.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.