Thursday, December 07, 2023
View Blog
Oct 4

Written by: Diana West
Sunday, October 04, 2015 8:44 AM 


After the US embraced its "noble ally,"  the Soviet dictatorship, in December 1941, Harper & Brothers' Cass Canfield (left) called back already distributed review copies of Trotsky's biography of Stalin. Canfield later withdrew My Year in the USSR by New York Times correspondent G. E. R. Gedye. Doubleday, Doran next canceled the spring 1942 publication of One Who Survived, the reminiscences of ex-Soviet diplomat and General Alexander Barmine. Random House's Bennett Cerf (right) takes the cake, though, for proposing that the entire U.S. publishing industry withdraw from sale all books critical of the Soviet Union. No more would be published until after World War II was over. 


It is curious feature of Banned Books Week, which came and went at the end of September, that its focus is exclusively fiction, and that much of what is protested are challenges, not actual bans, to "educators" who assign sexually explicit ephemera to high school students instead of English literature.

To highlight more widespread but less familiar uses of the totalitarian tool of killing thought and hiding knowledge, with all too many manifestations in literature and media in the Free World, I am re-posting the following excerpt from American Betrayal, It begins with an account of some of the travails of my father, Elliot West, an anti-Communist novelist in the pro-Red-to-pinko world of mainstream American publishing.

From American Betrayal, pp. 87-94:

In 1969, he sold a story to Houghton Mifflin to write a novel about a Berkeley professor and Spanish Civil War veteran who had had an Orwell-like epiphany on the evils of the Communist Left, which the professor saw reconstituted around him in theVietnam antiwar movement. Within a week of signing the deal, some large number of Houghton Mifflin editors, presumably sympathetic if not linked to this same movement, threatened to resign en masse if this one book with a viewpoint they did not share stayed on the Houghton Mifflin list. To make a short story shorter, my dad wrote a completely different book that year—and never got back to that Berkeley novel. Later, in 1978–79, despite high-profile agency representation, he got nowhere faster with another anti-Communist novel, this one set amid what he called The Third Front—the Communist infiltration of Europe during World War II—and the forced“repatriation” of 2 million Soviet-claimed nationals, most of them to death and imprisonment in the USSR. The IBM Selectric–typed manuscript, two-thirds complete, sits in a box behind my desk—the perfect metaphor for all of the anti-Communist stories that remain unincorporated into our lore. Such masses of evidence have accumulated in odd, unsorted piles outside and separate from the narratives we “know.” I don’t think it is inapt here to quote Solzhenitsyn, who, considering the muzzled state of Russians still in the shadow of the Gulag, wrote, “And if we do not show that loathsomeness [of the state] in its entirety, then we at once have a lie. For this reason I consider that literature did not exist in our country in the thirties, forties, and fifties. Because without the full truth it is not literature” (emphasis in original).26

We Americans didn’t show “that loathsomeness” in its entirety, either, and, as I’ve noted before and remain struck by, we weren’t operating under threat of the Gulag. How did our process of literary selection, which certainly wasn’t always natural, take shape? Billingsley points, for example, to the efforts of one John Weber, a Marxist labor organizer whose party work in Hollywood included organizing the Screen Story Analysts Guild, a Communist-dominated group that read—i.e., vetted or nixed—movie scripts. Just for good measure, the vice president of the guild was another Communist Party member, Lillian Bergquist, who also served as the chief script analyst for the Bureau of Motion Pictures (BMP), the Hollywood branch of the Communist-dominated Office of War Information (OWI).27

Incredibly, disastrously, Weber went on to head the literary department at the William Morris Agency, then the preeminent talent agency in town, another choke point from which to monitor the flow of work and workers (writers). Such control was a point of strategy, but it was also a point of pride, prompting the odd indiscreet revelation—and thank goodness. One prize gaffe came from Oscar-winning screenwriter and Communist Dalton Trumbo, later a poster boy for Hollywood martyrdom during what we think of as the Holly- wood Blacklist days, the period in the 1950s during which studios and producers officially “blacklisted” Hollywood Communists conspiring with Moscow to overthrow the U.S. government.

But . . . isn’t that treason?

Trumbo’s statement, made in 1946 in The Worker (petted Hollywood screenwriters are “workers,” too!), brags about a de facto anti-Communist blacklist that effectively prevented stories told from the anti-Communist perspective from getting to the silver screen. There might be a dearth of “progressive” movies on-screen, Trumbo admits, “but neither has Hollywood produced anything so untrue or reactionary as The Yogi and the Commissar, Out of the Night, Report on the Russians, There Shall Be No Night, or Adventures of a Young Man.” He goes on to tick off a few more significant anti-Communist manifestos, gloating over their never-to-be-exploited commercial value. “Nor does Hollywood’s forthcoming schedule include such tempting items as James T. Farrell’s Bernard Clare, Victor Kravchenko’s I Chose Freedom, or the so-called biography of Stalin by Leon Trotsky.”28

Clearly, there existed a Hollywood blacklist before there existed the Hollywood Blacklist. Trumbo’s statement breaks down to a basic message: Even if “progressive” (read: Stalinist) movies are tough to put over, take heart, comrade; every “untrue,” “reactionary,” “Trotskyist” hot property that comes along and gets rejected is a victory for Mother Russia. Some of those titles, it’s important to note, preceded the U.S. wartime alliance with the USSR (1941–45), coming along during the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (1939–41). This is something to keep in mind the next time tears are ordered up for a Hollywood Blacklist pity party. The fact is, Dalton Trumbo, martyr of the 1950s “Red Scare,” hero to the 1960s Berkeley Free Speech Movement, was himself “a blacklister before he was himself blacklisted.”29

Further, the Communist Party maintained an index of proscribed works Party members were not “allowed” to read. In I Chose FreedomVictor Kravchenko describes the inner life of “totalitarian subjects abroad” who “remained the terrorized subjects of a police-state” and, as such, had to contend with censorship and other restrictions even while stationed in America. Any indiscretion—reading a Russian-language publication deemed “counterrevolutionary” was the worst offense, but almost any American newspaper was suspect (exceptions: The Daily Worker, PM, The Nation, and The New Republic)—could mean political suicide or even worse.30

Even more shockingly, similar restrictions were supposed to apply to AmericanCommunists—even tanned and lotus-eating Hollywood types. Ex- Communist Hollywood director Edward Dmytryk relates in his 1996 memoir Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten, the following exchange he had with producer Adrian Scott near the beginning of their fruitful collaboration that produced such films asCornered, Crossfire, and Murder, My Sweet. There they were, two young princes of Hollywood, strolling across the RKO lot one day, when Dmytryk mentioned he’d been reading an interesting book.

“What book,” asked Scott.
Darkness at Noon,” I replied.
Adrian stopped short, and, as I turned to face him, he spoke in a subdued 
voice. “Good God!” he said. “Don’t ever mention that to anyone in the group!” “Why not?” I was honestly puzzled.
“It’s on the 
list!” he breathed, looking a little embarrassed. “Koestler is corrupt—a liar. He is an ex-communist, and no member of the Party is allowed to read him.”31

Dmytryk was flabbergasted. Not only had he been unaware of such a “list,” he hadn’t known Scott was a Party member. (That this was a revelation demonstrates the effectiveness of “cells” in maintaining Party secrecy.) Allowed by whom? Dmytryk wanted to ask, but he writes that he didn’t say anything. In the end, of course, no movie fan was “allowed” to see Koestler’s gripping indict- ment of Communism on the silver screen, either—or any other anti-Communist story like it.

The backstory of Out of the Night, another title on Trumbo’s blacklist, is similarly revealing. Although it is a forgotten book today, Princeton literature professor John V. Fleming includes this memoir of Communist and Nazi intrigue and adventure by the pseudonymous Jan Valtin, whose real name was Richard Krebs, among the four “anti-communist manifestos” that shaped the Cold War.32 Appearing in January 1941, Out of the Night was a publishing sensation, teased in two successive issues ofLife magazine, featured by the Book of the Month Club, and chosen as a Reader’s Digest book selection. It would be a bestselling book of 1941. It would also be one of the last trade book exposés of Communist crime published until 1945, an information vacuum that neatly co- incided with our wartime alliance with Stalin.

In 1942, Bennett Cerf, the storied chief of Random House, would actually propose that the American publishing industry withdraw from sale all books critical of the Soviet Union.33 While this frankly totalitarian proposal to pull pre-“politically incorrect” books from the shelves did not go into effect, it high-lights both the receptivity to Soviet propaganda and the hostility to the anti-Communist critique that were prevalent in literary circles. Indeed, in December 1941, publishing titan Cass Canfield of Harper & Brothers, pulled back already distributed review copies of Leon Trotsky’s critical biography of Stalin (so contemptuously dismissed by Oscar-winning Commie flack Trumbo).

The story of the publication of the Trotsky book was an epic in itself. As the editor’s note to the edition finally released in 1945 rather sanguinely notes, “Like most authors, Trotsky was more optimistic than accurate about the ex- pected date of completion, and his case was aggravated not only by the excessive optimism of the revolutionist and military leader but by continual harassments and attempts on his life” (emphasis added).

On August 20, 1940, Trotsky was still at work on his Stalin biography when an assassin sent by Stalin plunged an ice pick into his head, splattering his manuscript with his own blood. Some parts of the book were utterly destroyed in the ensuing struggle. Still, Harper assembled, edited, and published a finished book by December 12, 1941, when—historical significance, epic effort, blood, and murder aside—the publisher decided to consign it all to the memory hole. Stalin murdered Trotsky? Cass Canfield murdered Trotsky’s Stalin, But with finesse. In his note calling back the Trotsky book from public view, flagged by George Orwell in a letter to his English publisher (shortly before Orwell began writing 1984), Canfield rather elegantly wrote to prospective reviewers, “We hope you will co-operate with us in the matter of avoiding any comment whatever regarding the biography and its postponement.”34

Any comment whatever. The Trotsky recall took place just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the United States into World War II. Harper also withdrew My Year in the USSR by New York Times correspondent G. E. R. Gedye, while Doubleday, Doran canceled the spring publication of One Who Survived, the reminiscences of ex-Soviet diplomat and military officer Alexander Barmine. These publishing recalls were reported in the March–April 1942 edition of Partisan Review,which, decrying the wartime pressures being ex- erted on political speech, also announced the creation of a new department, “Dangerous Thoughts,” to “give publicity to the more significant instances of suppression of free thought from month to month.”35

Did these appalling acts of censorship serve the “greater good”—namely, the wartime alliance with USSR to defeat Hitler? That’s the consensus, but I reject it. Why? The effect, intended by all too many, was to harness the evil of Hitler to deny the evil of Stalin. In the end, it was a big, fat load of this “greater good” argument that strengthened and perpetuated a greater evil—the USSR, the true victor of World War II due in large part to the successful campaign in the West to whitewash Communist crime and to coddle Communist criminals.

This wasn’t just an American whitewash. Across the pond, Churchill’s 1932 bookGreat Contemporaries, a collection of biographical essays, was crudely bowdlerized in a 1941 reprint that cut out—purged—two opponents of Stalin, Trotsky and Boris Savinkov. It further censored an acerbic critique of George Bernard Shaw’s notorious 1931 visit to the Communist regime in Moscow in which no Soviet lie was too big to swallow. This brings to mind the famous story of how in 1953, following the trial and execution of Lavrenty Beria, former NKVD chief, editors of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia sent out a notice to subscribers urging them to cut out the Beria entry “with a small knife or razor blade” and replace it with an essay on the Bering Sea, which the editors thought- fully provided. So how can we deride the Soviets as heavy-handed censors without also deriding ourselves?36

Returning to Out of the Night, from the Hollywood perspective, it had it all—“adventure, danger, suspense, violence, tear-jerking romance, steamy sex,” writes Fleming, besides being “an eventually patriotic and morally uplifting true story for our times.” In terms of anti-Communist appeal it had everything, too: a vast criminal conspiracy directed by Moscow; Party orthodoxy rigidly enforced from within by internal spies and purges; parallels between Stalin’s regime and Hitler’s regime, which were (and remain) the biggest no-no of all. In Trumbo’s Hollywood, this book was DOA—“untouchable,” Fleming writes, and even before Nazi Germany attacked Communist Russia on June 22, 1941.

Three days later, on June 25, noted Hollywood producer and director Albert Lewin wrote a letter describing what Fleming would later call the “informal censorship” that suppressed anti-Communist works in Hollywood: “Although ‘Out of the Night’ would not be an easy book to make into a picture, I thought it would surely have sold long before this because of the enormous popularity of the book. I have made some inquiries and have been told that there was considerable interest among some producers, but that Washington indicated its disapproval out of a desire not to offend Russia” (emphasis added).

No word, alas, on how “Washington indicated its disapproval,” or who did the indicating. Lewin’s letter continues, “Evidently the attack on Russia will make it still more unlikely that anyone would want to market an anti-Communist picture now.”37

Due to the German attack on the USSR, Lewin predicted it would be “still more unlikely” that Out of the Night would ever have any Hollywood takers. This suggests the Washington campaign against the book had begun earlier, during the period of Soviet-Nazi alliance as codified in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939. Somebody, as Trumbo implied, didn’t want anti-Communist stories made into movies no matter what. So they weren’t.

The net effect of these pro-Soviet machinations? In plain Brooklynese, we wuz robbed. As a culture, we were stripped of defining events and people, markers and guides that should have been familiar signposts along the nation’s path, not historical specialties waiting to be discovered (or not) via academic research. These books, these stories, all of these people, were ideological casualties of the Communist conspiracy, and their losses reflect our own. These omissions contribute to the funhouse-mirror reflection of our distorted world-view. We struggle to make sense of an artificially incomprehensible void, unenlightened by the repetition of empty buzz words (“McCarthyism”) and the appearance of 2-D villains (“Red-baiters”). Truly, this is “the black hole of anti- knowledge,” where the twentieth-century struggle against Communism— against the “Red menace,” the “Communist peril”—is sucked in and swallowed up. Recent research may validate the use of such terminology as “menace” and “peril,” but it is “Have you left no sense of decency?” that echoes on in our collective consciousness, even if it makes no sense at all—and never did.38

Welcome to the culture of omission, with gaps, blanks, and disconnects throughout.

Such holes tend to go unnoticed, but sometimes they trip us up, and perplexingly so. At the end of The Sword and the Shield (1999), a landmark compendium of files copied from KGB archives, Cambridge don and doyen of intelligence historians Christopher Andrew and ex-KGB archivist Vasily Mitrokhin note the fact, apparently puzzling to them, that most historians ignore intelligence history, including Venona and other such archives. This has meant, they continue quite logically, that the standard studies of the Cold War, biographies of Stalin, and histories of the Soviet Union in general have overlooked the central role played by the operations and achievements of the intelligence and security organs of the Soviet state, chief among them the KGB. Listing some historical works notable for such omissions, the authors further note, “In many studies of Soviet foreign policy, the KGB is barely mentioned.”39

This fact is not only astonishing, it is nonsensical—“physics without mathematics, if you will,” as KGB historian John J. Dziak wrote, describing exactly the same phenomenon a decade earlier in Chekisty: A History of the KGB.40 Andrew and Mitrokhin go on, almost ingenuously, to take a stab at analysis: “Though such aberrations by leading historians are due partly to the overclassification of intelligence archives . . . , they derive at root from what psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’—the difficulty all of us have in grasping new concepts which disturb our existing view of the world. For many twentieth-century historians, political scientists and international relations specialists, secret intelligence has been just such a concept” (emphasis added).41

It’s impossible to say whether Andrew and Mitrokhin realize what a damning indictment of “twentieth-century historians” they have just issued, despite the ameliorating tag of empathy: the difficulty all of us have in grasping new concepts . . .It’s as if to say, there these twentieth-century historians were, poor babies, busily fitting the facts into their “existing view of the world,” when, all of a sudden, KGB history reared its view-changing head. What else could they do? Like a Hollywood producer turning down Out of the Night in deference, direct or indirect, to the local Hollywood and White House commissars, or like an Allied prosecutor at Nuremberg editing his indictment to protect Stalin’s legal and moral vulnerabilities, historians have scotched evidence that would displease these same masters—and would also undermine their own “existing view of the world.”

Andrew and Mitrokhin sum up this existing worldview this way: It is “the common assumption of a basic symmetry between the role of intelligence in East and West.”42

This “common assumption” requires either taking a chain saw to the record or wearing a blindfold permanently. So what if we miss the KGB effect on Soviet foreign policy? Undermining that “common assumption” of “basic symmetry” would mean shattering the mirror imagery between the U.S. and the USSR in general, and we mustn’t have that. End of mirror imagery, good-bye nuanced palette of le Carréllian grays with which such historians have painstakingly painted a murky age of moral and other equivalences between the Free World and totalitarianism. End of nuanced palette, good-bye age of moral and other equivalences. Maybe even good-bye moral relativism, too.

So what if, as Andrew and Mitrokhin point out, “the Cheka and its successors”—GPU, OGPU, NKVD, KGB (today FSB)—“were central to the functioning of the Soviet system in ways that intelligence communities never were to the government of Western states”? So what if, as the authors write, they “were central to the conduct of Soviet foreign policy as well as to the running of the one-party state”?43

One-party state?

Heavens, get that one-party state out of my existing view of the world. It’s wrecking my common assumption of basic symmetry.

Soldiering on, Andrew and Mitrokhin seem fairly hip to the problem, but then soft-soap its cause: “The failure by many Western historians to identify the KGB as a major arm of Soviet foreign policy is due partly to the fact that many Soviet policy aims did not fit Western concepts of international relations.”44

That’s some failure. That’s some way to dress up the cause of that failure, too. “Western concepts of international relations” is a nice way of describing the alternate reality created by Soviet “agitprop”—agitation and propaganda— which, to varying degrees, is precisely what was devastated by the evidence Andrew and Mitrokhin amassed in their own book.

It is such evidence that so discombobulated the intellectual elite’s “existing view of the world,” from Hollywood studios to New York publishing houses to faculty lounges .... 

Privacy Statement  |  Terms Of Use
Copyright 2012 by Diana West