Recently on my Facebook page, I started a controversy concerning something an online friend of mine wrote about. Pete Seeger was accused of being a Communist sympathizer during the 1960s when he was to perform a concert by some local officials on Long Island, NY. The comment by my FB friend was made in a manner that I interpreted as being flippant and dismissive of anyone who would object to Seeger on those grounds. I took the bait and asked whether my friend and others who “liked“ his comment and attitude would feel the same way if Seeger had been accused of being a Nazi sympathizer and had admitted being a member of the Nazi party. I asked them to substitute the word Nazi for Communist. Other Facebook members objected to this comparison and I listed Communist atrocities and mass murders which due to the longer run of Communism compared to Nazism, actually are larger in terms of the number of deaths. To me Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hitler are similar in terms of the mass murders that each of their respective regimes committed.
The historical record is clear on this but if one was to rely on cinema as a way of learning history, the mass murders of Stalin and Mao, have largely been ignored. One well known film, The Killing Fields, did expose the millions of murders in Cambodia by the Communist regime of Pol Pot. There have been other films but certainly not as many as have been made about the Holocaust. My point has always been since the Nazis and Communists have similar records in terms of human rights, why do people who supported and sympathized with Communism as opposed to Nazism seem to get a pass and are still viewed as decent people? It is as if there is a double set of books concerning human rights. One for the Nazis and one for the Communists.
I have dealt with this issue before concerning the group that has become known as the Hollywood Ten. These were a group of people involved in the entertainment business who refused to cooperate with members of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). They and many others were blacklisted by Hollywood film studios and some even went to prison. Some blacklisted people used different names in order to get work. For their lack of cooperation and being blacklisted and imprisoned they have been lionized and celebrated in film and television. In what I consider the definitive article about the Hollywood Ten, Art Eckstein addressed the controversy that ensued by the giving of an award to Elia Kazan at the Academy Awards:
“On October 27, 1997, on the fiftieth anniversary of the original HUAC hearings, the Hollywood creative elite attended a gala celebration of the Ten, and major stars appeared in a reenactment of parts of the HUAC hearing. The evening was capped by an appearance of some of the surviving Ten themselves, to thunderous applause. Then in 1999 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to award a lifetime Oscar to Elia Kazan. Kazan was the director of outstanding films such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata, On the Waterfront, and East of Eden. Kazan “taught Marlon Brando how to act,” but he had also “named names.” The award was ferociously opposed by survivors and supporters of the Ten. In the end, despite being escorted to the podium by Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, Kazan was greeted with stony silence by many members of the Academy.”
The link to his article which appeared in FrontpageMag.com is at: http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=369
Elia Kazan’s “crime” was that during the HUAC hearings in the late 1940s and early 1950s he was a friendly witness who named names. This means that he revealed the names of other people who he knew had been to Communist party or other left wing organization meetings. The investigation of this type of activity by the government has been condemned by many civil libertarians and the purpose of this column is not to discuss whether the government should have been doing this or not. Art Eckstein has done an admirable job of writing about this issue and he views the HUAC committee and some of its members and tactics extremely unfavorably. One does not have to admire HUAC to expose the hypocrisy and activities of the Hollywood Ten as Eckstein has ably done
If the Hollywood Ten had been Nazi party members or sympathizers would there be such idolization of them? Those who argue that we were in a life death struggle with Nazism and the Communists were our allies against Hitler use that to make an argument to explain the difference. But this argument loses some of its effectiveness when one considers that from the end of WWII we were in a similar although not nearly as bloody, struggle with world wide Communism. It also loses effectiveness when one considers the atrocities committed by Stalin that preceded WWII.
Obviously there are differences in ideology concerning Nazism and Communism; however, one characteristic that they share is mass murder as a modality for ridding themselves of those perceived a threat to their regimes. I suppose it is this distinction that allows the different feelings to be held about the atrocities. The Nazis murdered Jews and Gypsies based on their religion or ethnic origins. They believed in a doctrine of racial and ethnic purity and that they were ridding their culture and gene pool of inferior races. Others were murdered by the Nazis based on real or potential opposition to the regimes. The Communists also murdered millions but did not do this based on doctrines of racial or ethnic purity. They did commit mass murders based on religion, ethnicity, culture, and economic position but their murdering of millions was based on who they thought was or could be a threat to their power. These “differences” in motivation between Nazi and Communist must have meant little to the millions of their victims. I suspect that many who sympathize with Marxists do so because of their ideas about achieving economic justice through redistribution. This is a position held by many of the left today.
From Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and so on, the Communists have had quite a dismal record on human rights. Yet those who supported and sympathized with these regimes are treated with admiration as if they were courageous and even visionary. Although not yet on a level with Pol Pot, Mao, and Stalin, the leftist “junior league” of human rights abusers like Castro and Chavez have much support in places like Hollywood. Pilgrimages to these leaders have been made by the likes of Danny Glover, Sean Penn, and Steven Spielberg, of all people. If Chavez or Castro were Nazis or Fascists with identical record of abuses would these Hollywood icons genuflect in the same obsequious manner before these monsters?
For the record, Seeger has acknowledged Stalin’s atrocities but he is still a controversial figure and many writers have castigated him for his past support of Communism and his previous membership in the party.
The next time you hear or read about The Hollywood Ten, Pete Seeger, or some other supporter of Communism just substitute the word Nazi or Fascist for Communist or Marxist. Try it sometime to see how it sounds or reads.