Elia Kazan, who died this week at age 94, is remembered for two things: for having directed masterpieces on stage and screen, and, in the parlance of the Left, for having "named names" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952.
He was long recognized for the former; but he should have been equally celebrated for the latter. For what was "naming names" but lifting the operational anonymity of Americans who served the hostile interests of a foreign power bent on dominating the world? Regardless of this hard historical truth, the potshots flew for a half-century at the mention of Kazan's name, with no-talent Lefties scoring easy ink well into their dotage just for taking aim at Kazan the "informer," the "Judas" and the "heel." Never did they account for -- and never were they asked to account for -- their own shameful careers as shills and agents of what was, in truth, an aggressive Stalinist conspiracy to infiltrate and twist the entertainment industry into a propaganda tool for the Soviet Union.
What goes unacknowledged is how very successful this conspiracy was, and how potent its repercussions remain. Communist success in Hollywood lies not so much in the movies that have engraved the Leftist demonology of Big Business, the CIA and suburbia onto our collective consciousness, nor in movies that baldly extolled the supposed virtues of Communism. The very best measure of the smashing success of Communist infiltration of Hollywood is the near-total absence of movies, black-and-white or color, that chronicle the primary drama of the last century: the struggle for freedom against totalitarian communism.
In his book "Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s" (Prima Lifestyles, 1998), Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley plumbs this massive cultural chasm. Thousands of Germans risked their lives to break out from behind the Berlin Wall and find freedom in the West, he writes, but only a single Hollywood offering -- "Night Crossing" from Disney -- ever dramatized this scenario. Screen heroes with "progressive" politics abound, but who can name a single anti-communist good guy?
By Billingsley's count, not one Hollywood film has ever showed the Ukraine famine, the Moscow show trials or the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet military. Both the epic drama of Prague Spring and the Soviet-backed crackdown on Poland's Solidarity movement are backdrops for just one film apiece: the former in a short sequence in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and the latter in "To Kill a Priest," which, as Billingsley points out, "failed to detail the politics involved." As screenwriter and Communist Party official Dalton Trumbo bragged in a 1946 article for "The Worker," major anti-Communist books of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" (literally verboten to Hollywood Communists, as ex-communist director Edward Dmytryk revealed), Victor Kravchenko's "I Chose Freedom," and Trotsky's biography of Stalin, never made it to the screen. How could they? As Billingsley reports, story analysts and talent agents working for the Communist Party were perfectly placed to block the progress of such anti-Communist material.
One result is that the Cold War experience has never been blended into our cultural narrative. Lore-less, it remains politics alone, a not-fully-incorporated appendage of our history. Meanwhile, having to some large extent robbed us of the cultural legacy of that mighty global struggle, Hollywood communists left only the spiritually stunting cult of what has become known as political correctness in its place.
In the end, it was this coercive political orthodoxy -- lockstep, collectivist "liberalism" that brooked no dissent -- that drove ex-Communists such as Kazan to break silence, earning him the eternal enmity of the anti-anti-Communists. Which is something to ponder in our own time, as a gathering movement of anti-antiterrorism builds. In his new book, "Onward Muslim Soldiers" (Regnery), Robert Spencer highlights an undeniable parallel between yesterday's anti-anti-Communism and today's anti-antiterrorism: both movements see in the United States the chief villain of the world. And "just as twentieth-century leftists prostrated themselves before the progressive' Soviet Union and its satellites, so too does the twenty-first century Left prefer Islam -- with its presumed, romanticized history of 'tolerance,' despite all evidence to the contrary -- to the West," he writes.
"Just as the Left was anti-anticommunist, so too then are they anti-antiterrorist."
This is not to suggest how Elia Kazan -- who, by the way, never voted for Ronald Reagan -- would have come down on the war on Islamic terrorism. Still, this Constantinople-born son of a Greek rug dealer well understood the differences between Islam and the West. His favorite among his own movies, "America, America," is about a Greek Christian boy's near-endless struggle to leave behind the repression of Ottoman (Islamic) Turkey for freedom in the United States.
Elia Kazan, R.I.P.