Saturday, June 16, 2018

Witch-hunting the U.S. working class

....It is not only Donald Trump they obsessively hope to impeach. Their target — and the object of their fear — is that class of people who are rising up, many of whom voted for Trump.

Mary-Alice Waters, Havana, 2018


Today Democrats and liberals are creating a new witch hunt atmosphere. It's ostensible target is Donald Trump, presented as a dupe and catspaw of Moscow.

The real target is the multinational U.S. working class whose resistance they fear.

The article below contains some very useful information and striking echoes.

16 June 2018


The Debate over McCarthyism

The Debate over Victims of the witch-hunt period are speaking out in such works as 'The Front' and 'Scoundrel Time.' Cold war liberals long for 'the good old days' when dissent could be silenced.

By Stacey Seigle


During the 1950s American citizens who dared express socialist or other radical convictions courted real danger. They could lose their jobs and be barred through blacklisting from working in their trade or profession. They could be forced to appear before congressional committees assigned to investigate "subversion." If they refused to inform on friends and acquaintances accused of being "Communists," they could be imprisoned. It was a time when any violation of civil liberties was supposed to be justified when the clarion call of patriotism issued forth.

But times have changed. One sign of this
change is the growing number of people who hold that the First Amendment freedoms of speech, press, association, and assembly apply to all without exception-and should have applied
to all three decades ago when the witch-hunt that destroyed or scarred so many lives was launched.

The witch-hunt years are being widely dis-
cussed and reevaluated today. The tone for such discussion is no longer set by such exhibitions of police-state mentality as the late J. Edgar Hoover's Masters of Deceit. Today it is the victims of the witch-hunt rather than its perpetrators who receive a sympathetic hearing.

Among the recent works that have sought to expose aspects of the witch-hunt are Thirty Years of Treason, by Eric Bentley; Inquest, a play about the Rosenberg case by Donald Freed; The Front, a film by blacklist victim Walter Bernstein, starring Woody Allen; and Scoundrel Time, by Lillian Hellman.

It is as though a floodgate had been opened, releasing a torrent of emotions that built up during those years. These works present the bitterness, the triumphs, and the capitulations of the victims-the stories of the survivors and the stories of those who failed to survive.

Watergate played an important part in this great reversal. The downfall of Richard Nixon, who rose to prominence and power as one of the top witch-hunters, provided an apt symbol.

But the atmosphere that encouraged these works began to develop even before the Watergate scandal exploded. The change began with the sit-ins and mass demonstrations in the South, and with the massive movement against the Vietnam War. Many of those who suffered at the hands of the witch-hunters felt a surge of hope as a new generation defied the anticommunism of their old foes.

Lillian Hellman's Scoundrel Time is a short remembrance of the era of McCarthyism, as the witch-hunt came to be called. Hellman is a playwright, author of The Little Foxes and The Children's Hour. Scoundrel Time is the third volume of memoirs she has produced. Her book is a personal account, less a history than a mental journey through a time that was difficult for her. Although Hellman makes no pretensions to historical insight, one sometimes wishes that her perception of the origins and end of the witch-hunt would rise above comments like "the time was ripe for a new wave" and "nothing can last in America more than ten years."

Hellman writes of her life in this period with her companion of many years, Dashiell Hammett. Hammett, the author of The Maltese Falcon and other novels, refused to answer questions before Sen. Joseph McCarthy's Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. The prison term he served for this crime broke his health. Having little money and barred from most jobs in their fields, Hammett and Hellman were forced to sell their farm.

Hellman herself was subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. She read a letter to the committee agreeing to speak about
herself, but refusing to testify about others. She expected, but never received, a jail term.

Hellman's attitude toward McCarthy, the
young Richard Nixon, and the rest of the
congressional inquisitors is one of bored contempt. She considers them unworthy even of her anger. Hellman's ire is reserved for the intellectuals of that time who failed to stand by their democratic convictions, who crumbled and named names, scrambling for a place on the anticommunist bandwagon.

"Many stood up to the witch-hunt with all the backbone of a bowl of mashed potatoes," Hellman told the audience at the March 28, 1977, academy awards extravaganza. (The changing mood of our day was indicated by the fact that Hellman received a standing ovation.)

The Front is probably the most popular of the current spate of anti-witch-hunt productions. The film depicts the efforts of blacklisted screenwriters to sell their works through a "front," a small-time entrepreneur who permits them to use his name for a price. In the end, the front himself is called before the Senate investigators and, in a heartwarming scene, musters the courage to tell Congress where to get off. The audience, apparently all over the country, applauds.

Squawks from the Liberals

The challenge to the legitimacy of the anticommunist frenzy of the fifties has ruffled the feathers of some cold war liberals. The resulting squawks have served to draw attention to that quarter.

The cold war liberals include intellectual
figures like Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary magazine, and Prof. Sidney Hook.

Cold war liberals are distinguished from flagrantly right-wing anticommunist crusaders by their expressed sympathy for the economic reforms of the Roosevelt era and their ties to the Democratic party.

Liberals of this stripe have a personal stake in preserving the blind anticommunism of the cold
war era, which the witch-hunt helped to create.

Many of them carved out careers as advisers to the U.S. government on how to "fight communism" at home and abroad, while others function as publicists for the virtues of U.S. imperialism.

While some of the cold war liberals are blunt supporters of capitalism, others claim to be socialists. The Social Democrats USA and their monthly publication New America speak for this

The Social Democrats USA are closely linked to the trade-union bureaucracy, particularly AFL-CIO President George Meany and American
Federation of Teachers President Albert
Shanker. They fear the dissipation of the witch-hunt atmosphere. It was the witch-hunt that enabled the bureaucrats to eliminate opposition trends in the unions, drive radicals out of the plants, and establish a bureaucratic power monopoly in the American labor movement. The way they use red-baiting to try to maintain their grip on the unions was shown in the vicious campaign waged by the Abel-McBride leadership of the United Steelworkers of America against the insurgent campaign led by Ed Sadlowski.

The cold war liberals feel threatened by the fact that the American people just don't seem to fall for this kind of red-baiting the way they used to.

In an article entitled "The Blacklist and the Cold War" in the October 3, 1976, New York Times, art critic Hilton Kramer blasted The Front and Scoundrel Time, mocking these works as "a form of cultural chic." (In cold war liberal circles these days, it is considered sufficient to call a progressive idea or movement "chic" to justify dismissing it.)

The target of Kramer's denunciation is not only the victims of the 1950s witch-hunt, but also the radicals of today. He writes: "The point, it seems, is to acquit 60's radicalism of all malevolent consequence, and to do so by portraying 30's radicalism as similarly innocent, a phenomenon wholly benign, altruistic, and admirable."

Like the witch-hunters, Kramer presumes that membership in or sympathy with the Communist party is a crime, and that Hellman and other witch-hunt victims were therefore "guilty." Thus he attacks the film documentary Hollywood on Trial for omitting to mention that the late screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was a member of the Communist party for five years. According to Kramer, this omission meant that the film was upholding "the myth of total innocence."

The liberal view has been forgotten, Kramer wails. "What has been swamped in the new wave of revisionism about both the 60's and the 30's is
the ... view that regarded both Stalinism and the blacklist as threats to democracy-the view that looked upon both the conduct of the House
Un-American Activities Committee and the values of the Communist party as plagues to be resisted."

'Plague on Both Houses'

Kramer's "plague on both your houses" posture toward the victims of the witch-hunt and their persecutors is typical of the view cold war liberals put forward today. (Their stand during the witch-hunt was a little less evenhanded, as Hellman and others have pointed out.) Writing in the December 1976 issue of New America, Elias Schwartzbart (a former Communist party member who was called before HUAC in 1953 and subsequently lost his position in government service) provides another example. He baits The Front and Scoundrel Time as "neo-Stalinist" and charges them with the "demeaning of American democracy and democratic institutions." Stoutly predicting that
"American democracy will . . . survive The
Front," he links these works to "the assaults [on democracy] of all totalitarianisms in all their guises." He opines that "in the balance of history, the Communists and their fellow-traveling apologists must accept their share of responsibility for creating the conditions which gave the demagogues their opportunity."

Writing in the June 1976 issue of Commentary, Nathan Glazer is not content with the pose of attributing equal guilt to the red-baiters and to those they hounded. It was necessary to "expose the Communist organizers," he writes.

Kramer tries to justify his refusal to solidarize with the victims of the witch-hunt by pointing to the pro-Stalinist stands taken by Hellman at one time. He wonders whether "she has forgotten that she had joined in attacking the philosopher John Dewey, a pillar of the liberal establishment, for convening a commission of inquiry into the truth about the Moscow Trials."

It is a fact that Hellman took this position, which was to her discredit. But Kramer's stance is a particularly sickening bit of hypocrisy. John Dewey and others who helped expose Stalin's frame-ups were hardly anticommunist "pillars of the liberal establishment." At the time of the Moscow Trials, these figures were consistent defenders of civil liberties for all, including Communists. That is why they came to the defense of Trotsky and other victims of Stalin's purges.

This consistency put them on a higher plane than either the Stalinists and their sympathizers, who defended the frame-ups, or cold war liberals like Kramer.

"Pillars of the liberal establishment" who fail to defend civil liberties in the United States are hardly likely to be reliable defenders of democratic rights in the Soviet Union or anywhere else.

Hellman states in Scoundrel Time that she no longer sympathizes with Stalinism and now recognizes the repressive character of the Soviet regime. She answered critics like Kramer and
Glazer in advance by asking a simple question: "Since when do you have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?"

Kramer, Glazer, Schwartzbart, and others of their ilk hold that the Communist party members and sympathizers persecuted during the witch-hunt got what they deserved, although some now hold that the witch-hunt may have been a morally questionable way of giving it to them.

In their view, the witch-hunt was an under-
standable overreaction-at worst-to the totalitarian practices and crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy, and to the defense of these crimes by the American Stalinists.

The U.S. rulers, they argue, were devoted to democracy and used the witch-hunt to protect democracy against Stalinist

Origins of Witch-hunt

The real objectives of the anticommunist
campaign were very different. The witch-hunt came at the conclusion of a long period of working-class radicalization in the United States. This radicalism reached a pinnacle in the formation of unions in the mass production industries under the aegis of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Socialist ideas had won a significant degree of popularity.

Events at the end of World War II showed that this radicalization had not been completely dissipated by the patriotic sentiments generated by the war. U.S. troops in Asia organized massive demonstrations demanding, "Bring us home!"

These actions forced the U.S. imperialists to demobilize the. armed forces, and forestalled efforts to intervene militarily in China in support
of Chiang Kai-shek's dictatorship.

This upsurge was followed by the biggest strike wave in American history, which dealt a severe setback to big-business efforts to smash or severely weaken the industrial unions.

The main purpose of the witch-hunt was to reverse this radicalization, and to introduce sweeping new restrictions on democratic rights aimed at preventing a repetition. Such restrictions were seen as particularly necessary if the U.S. imperialists were to mobilize U.S. military and economic power for a global anticommunist crusade.

The Communist party was not the·only target
of the witch-hunt-it was not even the main one.
The anticommunist persecutions were designed
to intimidate anyone and everyone from speak-
ing out in opposition to capitalist exploitation,
repression, racism, and misrule.

The Taft-Hartley Act, containing severe restric-
tions on the right to strike, was passed in 1947.
This law also forced labor-union officials to take
a special "loyalty oath," swearing that they were
not Communists or "subversives" before being
allowed to participate in collective bargaining.
This was a blow to union members' right to elect
the leaders of their choice.

Teachers and other government employees
were purged on the slightest suspicion of radical-
ism. In some cases, charges of "premature
antifascism" (referring to those who opposed
Hitler or Franco before the opening of World
World War II) or friendship with Blacks were
considered sufficient evidence.

The House and Senate red-hunting committees
were supplemented by witch-hunting bodies set
up by state and local legislatures. These bodies
subpoenaed individuals who had done nothing
more than sign a petition in defense of Republi-
can Spain or Russian War Relief.

The movie industry was purged and the
resulting "self-censorship" practiced by the big
companies sought to guarantee the conformist
content of films.

At the federal level and in most localities, new
legislation was adopted restricting freedom of
advocacy and association. The Communist party
and sometimes other political parties were
banned by federal and state laws.

While socialist and progressive ideas were
forced underground, racism, sexism, anti-Semit-
ism, and other reactionary views gained-after
all, there was nothing "communist" or "un-
American" about them! The racist McCarran-
W alter Act, which set up restrictions on immigra-
tion, was adopted, while antilynching legislation
went down to defeat.

The congressional committees and the Smith
Act and "spy" trials were only the tip of the
iceberg of repression. Support for any view
critical of the status quo-indeed, nonconformity
of any kind-became a risky business. Such
ideas and behavior . could always be labeled

The rulers were successful to a large degree in
accomplishing the goal of reversing the radicali-
zation that had taken root during the depression.
Economic prosperity contributed to this process
as well. Anticapitalist ideas were isolated, and
even forced into a semilegal existence.

An Easy Target

The Communist party was chosen as the first
victim not because it presented a threat to
capitalist democracy, but because its adherence
to Stalinism and defense of persecution in the
Soviet Union made it an easy target.
It had alienated civil libertarians by support-
ing the prosecution of the Minneapolis Trotskyist
and· Teamster union leaders, first victims of the
Smith Act, in 1941. It had alienated oppressed
minorities by denouncing Blacks who demon-
strated for equal opportunity during World War
II as "pro..fascist," and by its support for the
racist relocation of thousands of Japanese-
Americans into concentration camps on the
flimsy pretext of "national security." It had
alienated labor by its ultrapatriotic denuncia-
tions of strikes during World War II.

Even in the midst of the witch-hunt against the
Communist party, the U.S. Stalinists could not
bring themselves to stand up for the rights of
other socialist currents. When James Kutcher, a
member of the Socialist Workers party, was fired
from his job with the Veterans Administration
because of his socialist views, CPers slanderous-
ly denounced him as a "fascist."

Many pointed to this abysmal record to try to
justify no defense of the Communist party when
it came under attack. Liberals like Glazer saw
the CP's record as a made-to-order "moral"
justification for joining the witch-hunters. By
attacking the Communist party first, the ruling
class was able to rally some popular support for a
broad assault on democratic rights.

The witch-hunt also played a part in the
imperialist effort to win public acceptance for a
vast arms budget, for the new U.S. role as world
cop, and for the prospect of a third world war
against the Soviet Union. The red-baiters sought
to suppress any criticism of U.S. imperialism's
foreign policy.

For liberals like Kramer and Glazer, the cold
war was an effort by the Soviet Union to conquer
the world for totalitarianism. Hilton Kramer is
alarmed by the fact that "revisionist" historians
of the postwar period are challenging this thesis.
For liberals like Kramer and Glazer, the cold
war was an effort by the Soviet Union to conquer
the world for totalitarianism. Hilton Kramer is
alarmed by the fact that "revisionist" historians
of the postwar period are challenging this thesis.
These historians, writes Kramer, "have been
laboring to persuade us that the Cold War was
somehow a malevolent conspiracy of the Western
democracies to undermine the benign intentions
of the Soviet Union."

However, the assumptions of the cold war
liberals simply don't fit the facts about the cold
war and the role of the Soviet Union. Far from
being a grab at world dominion by Stalin, the
cold war began as an attempt 'by the U.S. rulers
to use their nuclear monopoly to impose their will
on the postwar world-in particular, to overturn
the remaining conquests of the Russian revolu-
tion and smash the colonial uprisings. This has
been confirmed by the facts collected by "revi-
sionist" historians, to Kramer's consternation.
Hellman makes a good point about the prowar,
proimperialist logic of the stance of the cold war
liberals: "Many who were right about [repression
in] Russia," she writes, " ... made use of their
anti-Communism to play ball with the wrong
people and many of them are still at it."

An Injury to One. . .

However, not everyone who opposed Stalinist
repression in the Soviet Union became an
anticommunist or "played ball" with the impe-
rialist rulers in their attacks on civil liberties.
There were some who stuck with the old slogan
of the labor movement that "an injury to one is
an injury to all."

Among these forces was the Socialist Workers
party. Recognizing that the battle to protect the
right to dissent is vital to the working class, the
Socialist Workers party defended the Communist
party against the congressional inquisitions and
frame-up trials that were launched against it.
They rejected the false assertion of the cold war
liberals (echoed by the Stalinists) that the only
choice was between supporting Stalinist totali-
tarianism or aligning with the State Department
and the CIA. Instead, the SWP continued the
battle for socialist democracy at home and

Consistent defense of democratic rights of all
prepared the SWP for its current effort to expose
the antidemocratic practices of the U.S. govern-
ment and its police agencies, through its path-
breaking $40 million lawsuit against government
harassment. This suit in tum has played a part
in creating the political atmosphere in which the
witch-hunt victims have begun to E)xpose the
crimes that were committed against them.
One does not have to agree with the past or
present political views of Hellman or others who
suffered during the period of McCarthyism in
order to be cheered and inspired by the appear-
ance of books like Scoundrel Time and films like
The Front. All it takes is a commitment to the
defense and extension of those basic human and
democratic rights that came under such fierce
attack in the period described by these works. It
is precisely that commitment which the cold war
liberals lack.

Today we can see the first stirrings of a
renewed fighting spirit among working people in
this country, a spirit that promises to have even
more profound results than the radicalization
that the witch-hunt helped bring to an end. The
"radicalism of the 1960s," far from fading away,
as the Kramers and Glazers may have hoped,
has spread far beyond the college campuses. It is
this development that is sweeping away the
remnants of the anticommunist witch-hunt
atmosphere of the 1950s.


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