Thursday, July 15, 2004

Dalton Trumbo: FBI Informant

Dalton Trumbo was a great Hollywood screenwriter, but for much of his adult life a Stalinist. Trumbo, as one of the Hollywood Ten, has been celebrated as victim of the blacklist and contrasted to Elia Kazan, another great screen writer who named names before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.

In turns out, however, the Trumbo was an FBI informant. Glenn Carvin write in Reason magazine (via Leftwatch)

Everybody ... should read Dalton Trumbo's 1944 letter to the FBI reprinted in Additional Dialogue. In it, he boasts of having provided the FBI with letters from writers who are "1) anti-war, 2) anti-Semitic, 3) in the process of organizing politically, 4) distributing pamphlets to further their cause and corresponding with persons detained by the Federal government, and 5) of the opinion that the Commander in Chief of American forces is 'the greatest criminal incendiary in history.'" He adds, "I share with the men of your organization a sincere desire to see an end to all such seditious propaganda as criminal slander of the Commander in Chief, defeatism, pacifism, anti-Semitism and all similar deceits and stratagems designed to assist the German cause." He closes by noting that he's including more letters and begging the FBI not to tip off the writers about what he has done, presumably so he can keep ratting on them.

This was no isolated incident.

When the Smith Act, the predecessor of McCarthyism, was enacted by Congress and signed by Roosevelt, its first victims were leading members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and of Minneapolis Teamsters local 544, eighteen of whom were convicted. This was in 1941, when Russia and America were wartime allies. Convinced that the 18 were convicted for their views and not for any illegal acts, the labor and liberal movements rallied to their cause in large numbers, again without regard for their political differences with Trotskyism. The Communists also rallied in unions and arenas where they could gain a hearing throughout the country. What made their intervention so singularly notorious however is that they rallied tirelessly to isolate and discredit the supporters of the indicted socialist unionists, regretting only that the sentences were not harsher.

When a few years later it was the Stalinists who were persecuted by the same provisions of the Smith Act, a Conference to Defend the Bill of Rights was hastily convened in July of 1949, largely under Stalinist initiative, to solidify a defense movement. In preparation, the Daily Worker printed an editorial warning in advance that the Communist Party would not allow the forum to defend the civil liberties of "Trotskyites." Those with scruples, like I. F. Stone and Professor Thomas I. Emerson, were put on notice that such support would be considered disruptive. Nevertheless, endorsement of the Minneapolis defendants and the related case of the veteran, James Kutcher, who had lost both legs in the very "peoples' war" which the Communists invoked with such religious fervor, was not short in coming having been proposed by none less than the chair of the conference, Paul J. Kern. Kutcher had lost first his limbs and then, due to his membership in the "subversive" Socialist Workers Party, lost his clerical position in the Veterans' Administration, his disability pension and finally his public housing. Paul Robeson, a leading World War II sentimentalist, (after Hitler unilaterally and violently destroyed his Pact with Stalin) then took to the platform and in a sordid display of Stalinist solidarity denounced adherents of the Socialist Workers Party as "allies of fascism who want to destroy the new democracies of the world. Let us not be confused. They are the enemies of the working class. Would you give civil rights to the Ku Klux Klan?" Kern's resolution was defeated.

--Barry Finger "Paul Robeson: A Flawed Martyr" New Politics, vol. 7, no. 1 (new series), whole no. 25, Summer 199

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