Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hollywood and the Jews: Understanding Hollywood's Historic Left Turn

A note from Radarsite: Why do so many Jews vote Democratic? Recently, in response to Gary Fouse's explosive reports on antisemitism at UC Irvine, and some other related articles, this question came up. And it is a good one. Why are so many American Jews so avowedly left-wing, even at the expense of supporting Israel? How can this be? How can American Jews align themselves with the pro-Arab, anti-Israel, Muslim-appeasing left? How could American Jews be so heavily involved in anti-American organizations like the outrageous ACLU? How did this happen?

While I certainly do not pretend to have any special expertise in this complicated and contentious subject, I have nonetheless given it a great deal of thought. Below I have posted a portion of a yet-to-be-completed book called "The Secret of Samson's Hair: Hollywood and the Demasculinization of America". The book is based on the assumption that a great deal of the way in which we perceive ourselves and this nation of ours has been formulated in the movies we have grown up with. And it quickly becomes apparent that we cannot discuss this subject without at least beginning to understand the pivotal role of the Jews in Hollywood.

I hope that in some small way this contributes to our understanding of this important question. - rg

In 1947, the newly reconstituted House Committee of Un-American Activities (HUAC)* announced its decision to come to Hollywood “to look at Communists throughout the film industry.”* That same year, then 38-year-old Elia Kazan offered up his (at the time) trenchant, Oscar-winning treatise on anti-Semitism, Gentleman’s Agreement, through which he sought to make two important and socially relevant points (both of which were true): that the Jews (who had virtually created Hollywood and still dominated all of the major studios) had also fought and died for their country, and that anti-Semitism was still alive and well in America. It was a valiant effort that, though it may have helped ameliorate some of the more blatant inequalities in American society, did not have the power to stave off the barely-concealed virulent anti-Semitism at the core of the coming political storm, nor indeed to save himself personally from the wreckage of its aftermath.

The grand concept of a pernicious and omnipotent Communist Soviet Jewry (Hitler’s favorite topic) was based on the supposition that there existed a disproportionate number of Jews in leadership positions within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.*

Until the onslaught of the Second World War, this assertion was basically valid (and, historically speaking, perfectly logical). With the collapse of the repressive, ultra-conservative, religiously orthodox (and traditionally anti-Semitic) Romanov dynasty, and the subsequent success of the March 1917 Revolution, the Russian Jews saw their main chance: to once and for all escape from their precarious, marginalized existence in Tsarist Russia, where for centuries they had lived under the continuous threat of periodic (and seemingly arbitrary) bloody pogroms. Now, for the first time in the long tortuous history of their continental Diaspora,* here, it seemed, was a fortuitous and unique opportunity to finally find their place in a secular (indeed, soon to be atheistic) society. From the Russian Jewish revolutionary Lev Davidovich Bronstein— who would later change his name to Leon Trotsky* and rise to become Lenin’s famous political partner (some would say mentor), eventually assuming the all-powerful mantle of Commissar of War—down through a whole cadre of regional commissars and local party functionaries, the Jews enthusiastically embraced their new Socialistic Utopia.

As history unfolded, many Russian Jews and Jews throughout Europe increasingly looked to the seemingly successful Soviet Union and to Communism as a bulwark against the emerging specter of Nationalistic (and violently anti-Semitic) Fascism—ironically, the fanatically atheistic U.S.S.R. would come to be seen by the Jews as their long-hoped-for “Promised Land.” Unfortunately, it would prove to be a monumental miscalculation with disastrous results.

For many Jews all over the world, the lessons of the horrors of the Holocaust—the greatest and most devastating anti-Semitic pogrom in history—were crystal clear: whatever hopes they might have for surviving in a world of these constantly reoccurring episodes of fervent right-wing Nationalistic risings (and the anti-Semitic purges that inevitably followed in their wake) resided in the victorious and ascendant Communist Party of the U.S.S.R. For better or for worse, they would place their fate in the Internationalistic Left for the foreseeable future. And, for some, that future included Hollywood.

Evidence of a strong and active Jewish component in Hollywood’s Communist Party in the late forties and early fifties is undeniable and unsurprising. However, to make the false syllogism, as some HUAC members most certainly did—most notably the rabid and outspoken anti-Semite John Rankin, D. Miss.—that a disproportionate representation of Jews in Hollywood’s executive offices (or for that matter in the media in general or the medical and legal professions throughout the U.S.) was somehow the result of the machinations of some nefarious group of caftaned Jewish Elders (as described in the famous but spurious Protocols of the Elders of Zion) was simply ridiculous and ignored the fundamental principles of meritocracy inherent in our democratic system (if you don’t produce, you don’t succeed). If it appeared to some members of HUAC (and anti-Semites almost everywhere) that Jewish moguls were running Hollywood (and they were), it was because they had brought with them to this country the determined and uncompromising work ethic of the poor immigrant; and because they were good at what they did; and, finally, because they understood the American public and what they wanted and they gave it to them. In short, if there were any conspiracies involved in the Jewish Experience in America, it was conspiracies to keep them out, not to help them assimilate and succeed.

Unfortunately, there would be one notorious exception to this reasonable premise: the highly-publicized and internationally controversial trials of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.* Accused of being part of a transatlantic spy ring, centered on Ethel’s brother David Greenglass who worked at the nuclear research station at Los Alamos, they were subsequently found guilty of passing on atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. In 1951, they were convicted of espionage against the United States and sentenced to death—David Greenglass, Ethel’s duplicitous brother, saved his life by turning witness for the prosecution. (Despite numerous appeals from many western European countries, the Rosenbergs were executed in 1953.) Later liberal revisionist arguments in support of the Rosenbergs: that the Russians would have gotten the bomb sooner or later anyway, hold as much moral weight as the murderer’s claim that his act wasn’t really a crime because the victim would have died eventually anyway.

It was this blatant betrayal of American trust by American Communist Jews, together with the rising death toll from Korea and the escalating tensions of the Cold War that formed the context in which these HUAC hearings must be seen. And it was in this poisonous atmosphere that the former Communist Party member and perhaps the greatest director of the era made his fateful decision to testify before HUAC as a so-called “friendly witness.” In a “closed executive session”—which HUAC later leaked to the press—Elia Kazan proceeded to denounce the Communist Party, which he had left long ago (Kazan had quit the Party in 1936 in protest of the Soviet’s treatment of their artists). Then, more importantly, in an act that would be described by some as abject cowardice and would remain unforgiven to this very day,* Kazan named names of old party members from the 1930s (who had previously been named), and confirmed for all time his role in history as the Black Judas of the innocent Hollywood Left -- whereupon he would get up from the witness chair and go out and create one of the most magnificent (supposedly self-justifying) opus magnuses in cinematic history:

On the Waterfront (1954), a great, timeless, heroic film whose anti-capitalist message (who was the real evil force behind John Friendly’s bullying union leader?) may have been just a touch too subtle for the House Committee on un-American Activities.

The Hollywoodized version of this turbulent era has proven to be an unqualified propaganda success, universally accepted as revealed truth. It had been, we were told, nothing less than Hollywood’s Holocaust, whose innocent victims had been banished --not to the ovens or the gas chambers, but to New York or London or that shadowy underworld of pseudonymous ghostwriters. In truth, it had proven to be a giant social turbine that generated dozens of self-serving revisionist autobiographies, numerous treacheries and obfuscations, a number of banishments and blown careers, a few actual jail sentences, many cowardly betrayals of friends and associates, and a few heroic stances.*

Only now are we just beginning to learn the whole unpleasant truth—that the House Committee on un-American Activities was, indeed, a pack of nasty, self-aggrandizing, mostly anti-Semitic, bullying politicians who were, for the most part, absolutely right. Were there Communists rampant in Hollywood in the forties and fifties? Since the 1930s almost every liberal creative intellectual in Hollywood or New York or London either belonged to the Communist Party or had thought about joining it. From Henry Fonda’s Oscar winning (but absurdly long-winded and pompous) “I’ll be there...” speech at the end of John Ford’s classic version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath (1940) to Hemingway’s romanticized (and unabashedly pro-Leftist) interpretation of the Spanish Civil War, it had become accepted intellectual gospel that the Left was right and the Right was wrong.

Hollywood’s traditional political position — Leftist (mostly Democratic) opposition to Capitalist (mostly, but not always, Republican) governments, though temporarily suspended during the astounding Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1938, can be traced back to at least the early 1930s when active far-left pro-Communist groups and guilds flourished under the protective umbrella of the seemingly benign “Popular Fronts.”

However, as this discussion has already stretched the confines of our usual format -- and perhaps the patience of our loyal readers -- we will have to continue this at some later time. - rg


-- “…HUAC”: For this quote and much of the history of this tumultuous period I am indebted to Ronald and Allis Radosh’s Red Star Over Hollywood (Encounter Books 2005)

-- “…throughout the film industry”: See above.

-- “…of the Soviet Union”: “For an anti-Semite with a desire to find a scapegoat, there was a simple explanation. It was all the fault of the Jews. In Moscow, Trotsky the Jew directing revolution with his fellow Communist leaders Zinoviev and Kamenev. In Hungary, Bela Kun the Jew setting up his Soviet Republic with Jews serving as eight of his eleven commissars. In Berlin, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. In Munich, where he had seen the revolution at first hand, Eisner, Toller, Landauer, Levine, and Levien. Jews, Jews. They were the ones. All Marxists. Jews were Marxists, and Marxists were Jews. The left, which had stabbed in the back the brave men fighting at the front, was an international Jewish conspiracy, started by the Jew Karl Marx, whom Germany had foolishly nurtured and educated. It had all been done by Jews.” -- Hitler’s “Jewish stab-in-the-back theory”. Hitler: The Path to Power Charles Bracelen Flood (Houghton Mifflin 1989), p.62

-- “…their continental Diaspora”: A partial list of the persecutions of the Jews of Europe would include: Dagobert’s expulsion of the Jews from Gaul in 626 A.D.; Edward I’s expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290; their expulsion from France and the confiscation of all their property by Phillip VI in 1306; in 1479, the Spanish Inquisition began and the Jews were persecuted there until 1492 -- they were finally expelled from Spain completely in 1509; the Jews were persecuted in Germany and their writings burned in 1650; the Jews were persecuted in Poland in the years between 1740 and 1786; the Jews were persecuted in Prussia under Frederick the Great (r. 1740-1786) who imposed special taxes on them and ordered their exclusion from the professions; in 1881-1904, the Jews in Russia (as previously discussed) were victims of innumerable (mostly religiously-inspired) pogroms and government sponsored massacres under the so-called “Russification” measures -- in just one week the Tsar’s notorious “Black Hundreds” killed more than 3,000 Jews; in 1894, anti-Semitism appeared rampant in France, culminating in the infamous Dreyfus case; later, anti-Semitism in Germany flourished openly under Lueger. The monumental slaughter of Jews in our own time is of course a matter of record.

-- “…Leon Trotsky”: It is indicative of the criminality of the Soviet regime that all three of its “Founding Fathers” used aliases. In addition to the aforementioned Trotsky, Vladimir Illich Ulyanov had at least a half-dozen pseudonyms before eventually choosing the name of “Lenin”; and our friendly “Uncle Joe” began life as Iosif Vissarionovich Djugashvili; he then used the rather undistinguished alias “Koba” for a time, before finally settling on his sexy new moniker “Stalin” (man of steel). Nor were these merely harmless non-de-plumes used to protect otherwise innocent political dissenters. In Stalin’s case, in particular, he was known by the Tsarist police to be a dangerous criminal with a long “rap sheet” -- for everything from general hooliganism to bank robbery. It would be fascinating to contemplate how the course of American history might have been altered if, say, Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton had had similar backgrounds.
For Lenin: Lenin Robert Service (Macmillan 2000).
For Stalin: Stalin -- And the shaping of the Soviet Union Alex de Jonge (William Morrow 1986); also: Stalin -- The Court of the Red Tsar Simon Sebag Montefiore (Alfred A. Knopf 2003).

-- “…Julius and Ethel Rosenberg”: It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact on the 1950s American public of the Rosenberg trials. One could, perhaps, equate them with the O. J. Simpson trial of 1995, except that, beyond their enormous local notoriety, the Rosenberg trials had truly international significance -- the Internationalistic Left vs. the primarily American Conservative Right. Coming, as it did, on the heels of the highly-publicized and controversial Alger Hiss case, and the lesser known but undoubtedly more damaging British/American Klaus Fuchs/Harry Gold espionage trial, the Rosenberg affair shocked a generally complacent American public by the exposure of an actual American Communist spy network operating here on our own soil. However, even after their final sentencing and execution in 1953, the (unquestionably guilty)* Rosenbergs continued generating endless debate, and for the rest of the century they remained (for the left) unassailable symbols of martyrdom for the righteous causes of the glorious Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.

-- “…to this very day”: “…in 1999...the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally voted to give director Elia Kazan its “Lifetime Achievement” award. Kazan was then in his late eighties and in poor health…when the aging director approached the podium [to accept the award]…a group of Hollywood’s finest -- including Nick Nolte, Ed Harris, David Geffen, Sherry Lansing and Richard Dreyfus -- sat stonily while others gave a standing ovation…This rejectionism, not Kazan’s artistic and personal achievement became the star of the night”. Red Star Over Hollywood, p.239-40

-- “…a few heroic stances”: Some celebs went on to make a virtual career of their supposed heroic stances before HUAC -- most notably the coarse, outspoken and ever self-promoting author and playwright Lillian Hellman (1905-1984). See above.


  1. I've been reading a lot of material, regarding this phenomenon. It seemed completely unreasonable that the Jews in America would be so secularist and atheistic, considering what they had experienced through history and the lessons they should have learned about the outcome of atheism. Well, it appears to me that you have summed it up pretty well. Thanks for the great writing!

  2. What you foget and what American Jews were not told by the NY Times and the Jewidh Daily Forward was that the USSR banned Judaism and rabbis were shot alongside priests. Not a surprise given that communism was created by an antisemite Marx. See on the Jewish Question, where Marx made it clear that he wanted to end Judaism and Jewishness.