Archives For Communism

Thomas Doherty’s 2013 book, ‘Hollywood and Hitler: 1933-1939’, is a 373 page look into the past ideological make-up of Hollywood.

The book is well referenced, including both footnotes and a lengthy bibliography. The text flows chronologically and stands as essential reading for anyone studying, or wanting to know more about, both Hollywood’s reaction, and involvement, in Europe and America during the 1930’s.

Doherty paints a picture of the Hollywood scene, beginning with a basic introduction to the context and zeitgeist. What emerges is an insight into the things which divided and unified Hollywood. Avoiding a dreary run down of politics and economics, Doherty writes about a vibrant and diverse group of people, who, though continents apart and ideologically separated, forged an ardent opposition to Nazism and Fascism.

One of the main pillars of his book is Doherty’s exposition of the pro-active steps taken in order to counter the rise of anti-Semitism and Fascism. Opposition to Nazism from within the American film industry was an up-and-coming movement, which matured quickly after Hitler’s 1933 election to the Chancellery.

The movement wasn’t free of factionalism and fickle alliances. According to Doherty, shifting loyalties were brought about because of concerns raised with regards to the reach of Nazi propaganda and communism’s covert takeover of the Hollywood entertainment complex. Communists were involved in the Hollywood anti-Nazi League (HANL) movement. Consequently, some individuals within the movement became as much about quietly promoting Communism, as they did resisting Nazism. This narrowed diversity, as new factions split off and other groups, such as traditional Christians, were slowly purged from their place in the HANL movement. As Doherty shows, the biggest challenge for Communists was in maintaining a push towards Communist influence whilst keeping up the movement’s anti-Nazi; anti-Fascist agenda.

Doherty writes:

‘The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League’s rise, dominion and fall offer a case study in the merging of media and politics, celebrity status and social activism, and the ultimately irreconcilable marriage between starry-eyed liberalism and hard-nosed communism in the 1930s’ (p.100)

Hollywood & Hitler’ unpacks this subtle Communist overthrow of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi league. The primary factor for the ousting of Catholics and non-communists was the Spanish Civil war. As Doherty explains, the Spanish Civil had a complex political context. By proxy, Nazi Germany, Italy, and the Soviets were warring against each other.

The Spanish Civil war is a key feature under Doherty’s microscope. This is because it was the first conflict to be filmed, and shown to the public, close enough to real-time. Images flowed from the battlefront and were spilled out onto audiences through cinemas. The skills, process, procedure and art developed during these times, pioneered the way for film makers during World War Two.

Two compromises appear. First was the compromise of neutrality. Hollywood had a strong economic reason for working with the Germans and therefore a majority was against any boycotts of German goods[1]. Hollywood had to maintain neutrality wherever possible, in order to keep from directly enraging the Germans. Subsequently, Hollywood practiced a selective self-censorship of anything which displayed blatant opposition to the Nazis or Nazi ideology.

Second was a compromise of values and unity. One radical splinter of HANL, The Hollywood Popular Front, considered ‘neutrality the moral equivalent of lending aid and comfort to the enemy’ (p.161), such an extreme view alienated balanced reporters and compromised integrity. This was fueled further by a war between propaganda and ‘cinematic neutrality’ (p.171) over how the Spanish Civil war should be reported and retold[2].

Hollywood’s neutrality and its selective self-censorship[3] came under attack. Censorship and propaganda became the battlegrounds. Countering Nazi propaganda in films was an opportunity for the Popular Front to slip in Pro-Communist agitprop.  Simplifying the great length Doherty goes to in order to unpack this: there was an obvious tension between those who desired to push back against the evils of Nazism and those who wanted to do so by pushing the “virtues” of Communism. Not every member of NAHL was as starry-eyed about Communism as the Communists would have liked.

Doherty suggests that the ‘best explanation for the affinity of motion picture artists-actors and screenwriters [“Champaign communists”] especially-to an ideology counter to their economic self-interest [capitalism] was the respectful hearing according to them by the Communist Party of the USA. In Leninist doctrine[4], the artist stood among the vanguard elite, a cadre whose shining example would lead the benighted proletariat into the dawn of revolutionary enlightenment…the artist was the antenna of the revolutionary race-so much the better if he or she was a magnet for publicity and a donor with deep pockets.’ (p.114)

Doherty also points out the inconsistency of Hollywood’s Communists and their anti-Nazism. For example, the Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop-pact with the Nazis caused the Communists in Hollywood to double-down on their anti-Nazi rhetoric. This dilemma didn’t just reveal the façade that hid Communism, but how (with a few exceptions) self-serving their loyalty to the anti-Nazi cause was.

For better or worse, the Hollywood anti-Nazi movement, birthed (the now common) political celebrity[5]. The success of pushing support for ideas and consumer products through well-known and trusted, voices and faces, became common practice. Even if the celebrity didn’t know much about what they were selling, the opportunity to do so was as risky as it was potentially lucrative[6].

In Doherty’s words, HANL resorted to reaching the masses using ‘the same “hypodermic needle” theory of mass communications propounded by Joseph Goebbels: Inject the message into a mass consciousness through repetition, simplicity, and raw emotion.’ (2013, p.106)

The process this followed was to ‘first, gain the individual’s sympathy for what he is about to learn and second, present the material in a way which reaches his or her personal interest and at the same time supplies the necessary facts to sustain the first emotional reaction.’ (ibid)

It wasn’t until later on that Hollywood gained enough room to move on to directly producing films that had an anti-Nazi theme. Worth noting is Doherty’s point on how far Hollywood has shifted since the 1930s. The industry reluctant to criticize Nazism, has built a thriving business[7] on Nazis as the arch-nemesis of all that is good, (and for good reason!).

The Nazis, in the moral universe of Hollywood are the equivalent of pure evil, ‘the Nazi-centric documentary and narrative feature film is cultural currency –rarely dropping in value, always a good investment’ (2013, p.371).

It’s curious, however, that Nazism’s not so distant cousin, Communism, moving freely behind the anti-Nazi platform[8], has largely been given a free ride.

Perhaps this is why Doherty concludes that,

‘The American Communists had never thought of the movie capital as a party mint, but Otto Katz (a communist agent) corrected the oversight. Theodore Draper, the historian of American communism who observed Katz work his magic, described him as “the international Communist huckster par excellence”…Katz sold communism to the wealthy Hollywood magnates by working on their bad social consciences until they were cringing with contrition. The complete religious and metaphysical desert in the mind of many in the motion picture colony made Katz’s game easier’ (pp.103-104).

Hollywood & Hitler’ is balanced and tactful. Doherty draws from a depth of well researched information, and has taken pains to avoid any statements that would lead to the charge of McCarthyism. While Doherty addresses the positive points surrounding the anti-Nazi/anti-fascist movement in Hollywood, he doesn’t gloss over the negatives. ‘Hollywood & Hitler’ is well written, surprising in its relevance and enjoyable to read.

With the increasing visibility of celebrity activists, voicing opinion after opinion against things that Hollywood dislikes and distances itself from, the facts presented by Doherty, prompt the reader to question whether Hollywood has become what it once took a firm stand against. Jim Carry’s recent supportive statements in favour of Socialism, and every Hollywood award ceremony since 2016 being saturated in irrational, venomous hatred for one of their own, American President, Donald Trump, (et.al) force the question: has the institution, which once valiantly fought the dragon, become one?


Notes & References

[1] This was because, ‘American Jews in the motion picture business warned that any boycott of German imports would only rebound to the grief of their kinsmen overseas.’ (p.179)

[2] ‘Like the rest of the Spanish Civil war documentaries, it was less a recruiting device for new converts than a ritual; exhibition for true believers’ (p.171) #greatquote

[3] From both Catholic and Jewish sections of the Entertainment community, see footnote #2 and Doherty’s discussion on the National League of Decency, pp.154 & 155: ‘the watchful eye of the Legion fell increasingly on any glimmer of communist influence in Hollywood Cinema.’

[4] The same is with Nazism. Doherty: ‘Unlike  the American government, whose policy toward creative expression was mainly benign neglect, the Nazis honored intellectuals and artists as avatars of Aryan culture…Talented filmmakers of good stock and reliable opinion were pampered; the rest were persecuted.’ (p.197)

[5] ‘In casting actors as activists, HANL was a farsighted pioneer.’ (p.113)

[6] This may be backfiring on Hollywood, where people, in a technological age start to see through the veneers and question why, who is selling what to whom.

[7] ‘In the digital age, the collection and repackaging of images of the Nazis remains a growth industry, sustaining documentary features, action films, and cable channels.’ (p.371)

[8] The Communist beachhead in Hollywood caused a split it, which created the far-left’s Popular Front, and the Catholic, National League of Decency (formed in 1934).

Doherty, T. 2013 Hollywood & Hitler: 1933-1939 Columbia University Press

Image credit: Columbia University Press

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Disclaimer: I received no remuneration of any kind for providing this review.

Some Western Leftists, coddled by revisionism in the Universities, protest under the banner of Communism. On the border between North Korea and South Korea a man risks death to escape it. They couldn’t be more ignorant about Communism and what a dictatorship of the proletariat actually means. This North Korean soldier doesn’t just deserve his freedom, give the man a book deal and make it a core text for University students.

Amanda Prestigiacomo, of Daily Wire:

“Oh is the third member of the North Korean army to defect this year. It is estimated that some 30,000 North Koreans have fled the oppressive country since the Korean War in 1953.”

Kyrie Eleison.

Karl Barth and Roger Scruton make unlikely conversation partners. Barth, was a Reformed Swiss theologian, who held up the distinction between theology and philosophy, and Scruton, is a British philosopher, who talks theology, but knows his limits on the subject.

The meeting between the two takes place in Barth’s On Religion and Scruton’s, The West and All the Rest. Together they provide a telescopic view of modern religio-politics and the socio-political landscape of the West.

One big theme for Scruton is the relationship between the ‘social contract’ and Creed communities[i] (or communities bound by religious law). One clear example of a Creedal Community is a community living under Shari’a law.

Shari’a is held up by the Muslim community as unchangeable divine law. ‘The gate of itijiahd is closed’, meaning that the divine law, the Shari’a, can no longer be adjusted or added to, but merely studied for meaning that it already contains.’ [ii]

Within Islam, salvation comes through the law. Routine obedience to both ritual and law ‘makes and unmakes a Muslim’s relationship with God.’ [iii] Islamic ‘communities are not formed by doctrine, but by obedience, established through ritual and law’. [iv] There is no objective political body such as is created, in the West, by the separation of the Church and State.

‘Like the Communist Party in its Leninist construction, Islam aims to control the state without being a subject of the state […] Islamic jurisprudence does not recognise secular, still less territorial, jurisdiction as a genuine source of law. [v]

Scruton asserts that Western foundations were laid by Judeo-Christian doctrine and Roman law, where ‘law is defined over territory [territorial jurisdiction]’. Jesus’, “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, to God what is God’s” (Mt.22:21). From the two, emerged the so-called “social contract”. This consists of the rights and responsibilities of free citizens, lived out, and governed within the boundaries of classical enlightenment liberalism and its ‘’culture of toleration’’.

Scruton explains that even though in the Western sphere, ‘religion is the concern of family and society, but not of the State’ [vi], the “social contract” has an undeniable foundation in the Judeo-Christian experience, which advocates love for God and love for neighbour, whether that neighbour be a Jew, Christian, Muslim or neither. Neighbour serves neighbour, just as that neighbour would serve himself (Leviticus 19:9-18, Deuteronomy 6 & Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).

This implies personal responsibility, which functions under the covering of this basic agreement. An agreement that works for social and political cohesion; a ‘common loyalty to a single [secular] political culture’ [vii], within in a diverse, vibrant and free society.

Rather than within a coercive society or politik grounded in allegiance to one overarching ruler, party or carefully structured narrative.

In other words, the “social contract” exists within a house where freedom is governed responsibly; it cannot exist in a house of slavery, where freedom is squashed by opposing extremes such as Islamism,  Nihilism, subjective relativism,  or communist/Marxist doctrine.

Barth’s major theme meets Scruton’s precisely where Barth asserts that religion, when it’s abstracted from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, becomes idolatrous and toxic.*  E.g.: Works righteousness; where the focus is not on what God has done, but on what man and woman do, and how they can reach God, without God.

Scruton and Barth, present a tangible argument for the importance of recognising the dangers of severing the “social contract” from the Judeo-Christian experience.To do so, is to lose its unique critique and affirmation.

Responsible freedom and civics (the “social contract”)  facilitate true freedom, because it understands that true freedom only exists when just limitations, are applied to protect freedom from the challenges which threaten its existence.

Such as post-enlightenment nihilism (manifested as militant secular humanism), cultural Marxism, Islamism and radical feminism, all of which, through revisionism and deconstruction theory, seek to sever society from tried and true, Judeo-Christian doctrine and experience, without regard for the anchoring of freedom that it provides.

For Barth, men and women act against God’s grace (His unmerited salvation). In man and woman’s quest to reach God, on human terms, his and her ‘erecting of towers of babel’, are faithless acts, built on flawed and faithless human arrangements.

These human arrangements are absent of any involvement or acknowledgement of or faith in the Divine. Barth points out that, as history proves, when one religion fades or is usurped, another inevitably takes its place.

Scruton appears to agree, stating that both Marxism and Feminism, share the ‘ambitions of a monotheistic faith [religion]’

‘It seeks to replace or rearrange the core experience of social membership and therefore has the ambitions of a monotheistic faith, [like Marxism] offering a feminist answer to every moral and social question…a feminist [and Marxist] [account of history], theory of the universe, and even a feminist goddess. It drives the heretics and half-believers from its ranks with a zeal that is the other side of the warmth with which it welcomes the submissive and orthodox.’  [viii]
‘…we should acknowledge that the worst forms of nationalism and socialism arise when their adherents look to them to provide the equivalent of a religious faith. –  an absolute submission that will sweep away all doubt, demand total sacrifice and offer redemption in exchange. This is what the latter-day Marxists are demanding.’ [xix]

This goal is also evidenced in the remarks of, György Lukács, one of the founders of “Western Marxism”, in Record of a Life:

“You cannot just sample Marxism […] you must be converted to it.” [x]

Scruton and Barth share a common protest. Connected to Barth’s discussion on religion without revelation, Scruton helps build a strong theological critique of Islamism, Marxism and Feminism. All exist as religions without the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Just as religion without the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, is bound for destruction, so is Western political philosophy that jettisons its Judeo-Christian foundations; foundations that hold up a moral and faith basis for Classical Liberal enlightenment principles, such as the largely successful independent working relationship between Church and State.

In Islam there is no equivalent to a separation between Church and State. Like Marxism, the State is the Church (or Mosque). All moral opposition is treated as treason. (Exemplified by ex-Muslim & secular humanist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her book, ‘Infidel’ and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his 1971, Harvard address).

As neighbour betrays neighbour, family member betrays family member, all politically incorrect discussion or dissent [talk not approved by the State] is reported to organisations like the Morality Police (Gasht-e Ershad) or the Soviet Cheka, The Soviet Union’s equivalent to the Gestapo[xi].

Scruton makes it clear that, what is at work behind the scenes, in the West, is not a denial of religion, but a quest to replace it. Barth makes it clear that any religion completely absent or synthetically veiled with lip service to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, is one to be resisted.

Like Barth’s admonishment of natural theology during the rise of Hitlerism and the Third Reich. Like his warnings of how faithlessness leads humanity towards inhumanity. Like Barth’s meticulous warnings of any religion which exists without the sublimating [raising to a higher status] of religion through the revelation of Jesus Christ [God’s unmerited salvation – grace], Scruton points a telescope towards a storm that’s been darkening the horizon, but has been dangerously dismissed, by far too many for far too long.


References:

 

[i] This term is attributed to Oswald Spengler, The Decline of The West.

[ii] Scruton, R. 2002 The West & All The Rest: Globalization & The Terrorist Threat ISI Books

[iii] ibid, p.21

[iv] ibid, p.103

[v] ibid, pp.6 & 66

[vi] ibid, p.63

[vii] ibid, p.63

[viii] ibid, p.72

[xix] Scuton, R. 2014 How to Be a Conservative: The Truth in Socialism, Bloomsbury Publishing (p.64)

[x] Scruton, R. 2015. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, New Thinkers of The Left. Bloomsbury Publishing

[xi] Another example comes from Alain Besancon, who wrote: ‘Muslim states, according to strict adherence to law, cannot authorize the reciprocal tolerance asked of them by Christian states. In calling for this, Christians show their ignorance of Islam.’ (Forward to Jacques Ellul’s, Islam and Judeo-Christianity).

*(Such as: any religion [claim to the way of salvation] that holds a veneer of revelation, but ultimately rejects both covenant and Jesus Christ as the promise and fulfillment of God’s revelation; God’s free choosing and acting in and through the covenant of grace.)

If there was room in the title I would add, ‘selective outrage’ and ‘selective hearing’ to this list. I also changed the words ‘ownership of’ to ‘claim on’, because I don’t think it fully expresses the truth.

I was, perhaps, being a little too pessimistic when I posted that to my FB wall.

Certain elements claim it, but ownership is, thankfully, not yet a complete reality.

It’s no big secret that I’m a huge fan of the late J.B.E – here is yet another reason why:

‘…For those of us who entered young adulthood in the 1960s, to be an intellectual was to be in opposition. To be an academic was to be on the left, minimally a liberal.
It was unfashionable to suggest that, although the Vietnam War was unjust and needed to be brought to a halt as quickly as possible, communism posed a real threat.
Yet the historic record was clear: In the process of destroying freedom, Communist regimes slaughtered millions of their own people. Although that was an empirical reality, many denied it.
Facts themselves came in for a beating, partly because the country had been lied to on so many occasions that the cynical view arose that no one ever tells the truth in public life, and partly because this period saw the beginning of a rush into the arms of subjectivism.
From the subjectivist perspective, how I feel about something triumphs over serious thinking.’

Source:

Elshtain, J. 2008 Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World (p. 72 & 73)