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Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

Welcome to “Dumb Ideas that Changed the World.” The views expressed are solely those of the host and do not reflect the opinions of this station or its funders.


America never loved communism. Party membership peaked in 1947 at just 75,000. That same year the House Un-American Activities Committee interrogated Hollywood writers, directors, and actors about their rumored associations.


Forcing people to testify about their political beliefs was itself Un-American. And the resulting Hollywood blacklist shamefully ended the careers of many. But we shouldn’t forget how corrupt the Communist Party-USA was. The notorious “Hollywood Ten”—who spent months in jail for refusing to testify, were touted as principled men who stood up for free speech. Historian Arthur Eckstein exposes this claim as “nonsense.”


The CPUSA never advocated an American brand of socialism, but were loyal Stalinists under direct orders from Moscow. Eckstein documents how their fierce anti-fascism disappeared when the Soviets made peace with Hitler in 1939, carving-up Poland and leaving Stalin to brutally annex the Baltic States. Now, American communists had no problem with the Nazis.


But when Germany attacked Russia, the CPUSA turned another 180 and called for total war. Declassified Soviet archives confirm that Moscow directly controlled the party, including its secret Hollywood branch. They planted spies, sneaked communist messaging into films, and strictly controlled their members’ freedom of speech. Screenwriter John Bright was told, “When the Party makes a decision it becomes your opinion.” Freedom was the last thing on their minds.


The Hollywood Ten were among the most obedient Stalinists, persecuting any party members who fell out of line. They even “named names” to the U.S. government when it suited them. One of them, Alvah Bessie later realized he had been duped.


The House hearings and Hollywood blacklist were wrong. But to romanticize the Hollywood Ten as innocent bystandars is wrong too.


I’m Jeff Gentry


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Best reference:

Eckstein, A. (2004). The Hollywood Ten in History and Memory. Film History, 16(4), 424–436.


Dumb Ideas that Changed the World copyright 2024 by Jeff Gentry. All rights reserved.

Host of Dumb Ideas the Changed the World
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