De riguer for film noir is the investigation of the small crime inadvertently uncovering a larger one. The giveaway is usually the ring of colluders all trying to hamper the small investigation.
In Reds, John Reed, played by Warren Beatty, reacts to evidence of Soviet tyranny, by rejecting them but also by symbolically trying to hitch himself to another "wagon." The message is clear: Beatty’s principles and heart remain in the right place, even if he has been burned by his allegiance. This image of the dupe with his heart in the right place being manipulated by cynical men, is the weapon of last resort for today’s Left when confronted with Communist Party cards for those blacklisted. Their response is classic Nuremberg: Hollywood Reds did not know about Stalin’s crimes. In this respect, the Left is taking a leaf from the Hollywood Reds’ book. Paul Jarrico, a blacklisted screenwriter, responded to Kruschev’s revelations about Stalin by stating, "I wasn’t a traitor; I was a fool." Another Hollywood Red, Albert Maltz, stated, "My shining eyes were blinded by the significant social progress of the Soviet Union. I simply didn’t trust the capitalist press." Believers in the perfectability of man, today’s Left argue, Hollywood Reds simply could not accept evil in those with the same principles and same rhetoric. But again, at least their hearts were in the right place. There was nothing sinister in their support of Stalin, they all-but-scream.
With the pillar of the innocent dupe in place, the Left today has constructed a whole edifice around it. The blacklisted screenwriter can suit its political purposes perfectly, serving as both hero—refusing to name names to HUAC, that dark, fascistic body—and matyr to American repression by being blacklisted for political thoughts. For those seeking a history lesson to wage against the Patriot Act, the blacklisted screenwriter serves as a reminder that "It has happened here" and "is happening again." The potency of this symbol is evidenced by a gaggle of Hollywood leftists (Paul Newman, Tim Robbins, Gore Vidal)—all critics of the Bush administration—lining up to play screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in the current off-Broadway production. To emphasize further the current McCarthyistic danger America faces, the play is sponsored by People for the American Way.
While engaged in the relatively small investigation of propelling Hollywood Reds out of their New Deal, civil libertarian closet and exposing them as followers of every zig-and-zag of Soviet policy, historian Ronald Radosh discovered something that could potentially pull the whole edifice down. Amidst the reactions of the Hollywood Reds to the Kruschev relevations about Stalin, he found the following in the papers of Dalton Trumbo:
My library contains Koestler and Fischer and Orwell and Silone; I am a collector of hysterics like Bullitt and Burnham and Lyons and Levine and Bundenz and Chambers; I puzzle politely over Viereck and Fiedler; I have Huxely and Muller and Zirkle on Lysenko, together with the minutes of the 1948 Academy debates than [sic.] enthroned him; I haven’t neglected Barminie and Krivitsky and Dallin and Simmons and Brzezinski and Haimson and Deutscher, nor Trostky himself—and I was not surprised.
The final statement, inserted at the end rather than as a topic sentence to obviously lessen the shock value, makes Trumbo at first glance a hypocrite. For years, Trumbo defended Stalin as "one of the democratic leaders of the world." In 1945, he bragged of censoring the very works from making it to the screen that prepared him for the revelations—in particular, Trotsky’s "so-called" biography of Stalin which he labeled "reactionary and untrue." And yet, in a letter to his daughter who was visiting the Soviet Union in the late 1950s, he asked her to curse Stalin if she encountered his ghost. Four years after the revelations, however, he wrote to Stanley Kubrick, the director of his scripted Spartacus, that Stalin and Trotsky were after the same thing: "freedom."
Such contradictory statements suggest that Trumbo was truly shocked at the secret speech and sought to wipe the egg off his face privately and present a sophisticated, knowing expression to the world, or that he was playing to a particular audience.
The clue to these contradictory statements about Stalin is the audience. Trumbo admitted his foreknowledge of Stalin’s crimes in a letter to a fellow Communist Party USA member, John Bright. But he continued to defend the dictator in letters to non-Party members like Kubrick. Thus, it is apparent that even though he left the Party in the 1950s, he carried some of its baggage with him.
Party members feared any doubts or criticisms of Stalin, however privately stated, would filter into the propaganda coffers of the enemy. French actor Yves Montand did not publicly condemn the postwar purge trials in Hungary out of fear he would be aiding the "imperialist enemies." Party members publicly condemned, while privately agreeing with, Albert Maltz’s plea for freedom of artistic expression for Party members. Their condemnation stemmed from fears of arming the "reactionaries."
Trumbo obviously kept his fears of helping the other side even after leaving the Party. Whatever criticisms he wrote of the Party were submitted not to the New Republic or even the Nation but the safe confines of Mainstream magazine. Mere years before his death, he tried to keep his arguments with fellow Hollywood Ten members private out of fears it would take the public’s mind off the main enemy, HUAC.
One could argue that with his concern for image, Trumbo was truly a Hollywood communist, but such an argument is easy meat. Trumbo was no different from Hiss or the Rosenbergs, who also assumed roles—innocent New Dealer, Jewish progressives—and stuck to them all the way to the end. But such political theatre wouldn’t have lasted had the Left, then and now, not stuck to the script.
Christopher Trumbo, who minutely combed his father’s papers for script material for the off-Broadway, somehow forgot to include Dalton’s letter admitting foreknowledge of Stalin’s crimes. In none of the histories of the blacklist penned by Larry Ceplair and Victor Navasky is this mentioned either. Instead, they hew to the "innocent dupe" testimonies of Paul Jarrico and Albert Maltz, men whose hearts were in the right place.
Radosh’s investigation will certainly cause a re-evaluation of Trumbo by serious scholars. Still, today's leftists oppose any perestroika with the last fiber of their being. That would expose the Left for what they are: not idealists, but idiots, or worse.