The Society Page

By Gene Mahoney

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Three Cheers for the Red, Red, and Red

Due to its recent lawsuit limiting the U.S. government’s ability to fight the War on Terror, a lot of people are getting down on the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). And you know what? It’s driving me nuts. Will you leave these people alone already? All they’re trying to do is protect the U.S. Constitution. And for that thankless task, right wing wackos are constantly accusing them of being a Communist front group.

Well, it’s about time, once and for all, that I prove to all of you knuckle-dragging, NPR-shunning Red State Neanderthals that the ACLU, contrary to what your NASCAR-obsessed brains may think, was founded solely to protect the United States Constitution. Let’s look at its origin…

The ACLU was founded by a patriotic American named Roger Baldwin. Actually, Baldwin founded it with several other people (including Helen Keller), but he was its first executive director; a post he held from 1920 to 1950.

Hang on. Let me breathe here for a moment. It… it just makes me so UPSET when these right wing lunatics accuse the ACLU of being some sort of subversive front group disguising themselves as a Constitutional watchdog. I just… hang on. I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to cry. I know it’s okay for a man to cry. (As Richard Gere told Movieline magazine in their November 1997 issue: “I cry every chance I get.”) But I’m not going to cry. Okay, I’m going to compose myself for a few moments. In the meantime here’s an excerpt from a fellow named S. Jackson who wrote a defense of the ACLU last year in the Joplin Independent titled “Slamming Baldwin and the ACLU”:

“Alan Sears has co-authored a new book entitled, The ACLU vs. America: Exposing the Agenda to Redefine Moral Values. In an interview with Front Page Magazine, Sears uses quotes made by ACLU founder Roger Baldwin to imply that he was a communist and to insinuate that the current ACLU is a communist organization.”

That’s right, Mr. Jackson. A lot of decent, well-meaning humanitarians were taken in by communism in the early days of the Russian Revolution. But once they saw what it became under Stalin and the other tyrants, they quickly became staunch anti-communists. Let’s get the obligatory “gotcha” pro-communist quote from Roger Baldwin out of the way. This is from “Freedom In the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.”, an article Baldwin wrote for Soviet Russia Today:

“[T]he Soviet Union has already created liberties far greater than exist elsewhere in the world.”

Okay. Are you happy? Baldwin got duped by the Bolsheviks in their early days. Big deal.

Uh, hang on. That was written in September 1934, in Stalin’s Russia. Oh. Let’s get back to S. Jackson’s defense of Baldwin:

“Baldwin did work with some communists in his early years and shared their drive to end social and economic inequality. However, he denounced the use of violence, repression, and dictatorships as a means of achieving that goal.”

There! You got that? “He denounced the use of violence, repression, and dictatorships as a means of achieving that goal.”

Hang on; I didn’t use the whole quote by Baldwin. Here it is (emphasis in the original):

When that power of the working class is once achieved, as it has been only in the Soviet Union, I am for maintaining it by any means whatever. Dictatorship is the obvious means in a world of enemies at home and abroad. I dislike it in principle as dangerous to its own objects. But the Soviet Union has already created liberties far greater than exist elsewhere in the world.”

Hey, does this guy have a sense of humor or what? Ha! Ha! Ha! I mean… Roger Baldwin, the founder of the ACLU, advocating dictatorship? Too bad he’s still not alive, he’d be headlining Vegas, I tell ya! What a card!

In this next excerpt from Baldwin’s article I see he mentions the OGPU, which many people are unfamiliar with. In 1922, the Cheka (the Soviet Union’s first police organization) was reorganized into the OGPU.  The OGPU is probably best known for enforcing Stalin’s plan to terminate Ukrainian Nationalist sympathies, resulting in the collectivization of farms and a forced famine that starved millions to death. OGPU agents deported millions and executed hundreds of thousands for the slightest resistance. 14.5 million people are estimated to have died from 1929-1933 as a result of the collectivization program. I’ll bet old Roger-Boy lets them have it! Here’s Baldwin:

“I saw in the Soviet Union many opponents of the regime. I visited a dozen prisons — the political sections among them. I saw considerable of the work of the OGPU. I heard a good many stories of severity, even of brutality, and many of them from the victims. While I sympathized with personal distress I just could not bring myself to get excited over the suppression of opposition when I stacked it up against what I saw of fresh, vigorous expressions of free living by workers and peasants all over the land. And further, no champion of a socialist society could fail to see that some suppression was necessary to achieve it. It could not all be done by persuasion.”

Wait, there’s more (emphasis in the original):

“[I]f American champions of civil liberty could all think in terms of economic freedom as the goal of their labors, they too would accept "workers' democracy" as far superior to what the capitalist world offers to any but a small minority. Yes, and they would accept — regretfully, of course — the necessity of dictatorship while the job of reorganizing society on a socialist basis is being done.”

But hasn’t the ACLU defended conservatives like Oliver North and Rush Limbaugh? Why would they do that if they weren’t exercising blind justice for every American? Here’s another excerpt that may help explain that (emphasis in the original):

“If I aid the reactionaries to get free speech now and then, if I go outside the class struggle to fight against censorship, it is only because those liberties help to create a more hospitable atmosphere for working class liberties. The class struggle is the central conflict of the world; all others are incidental.”

Okay. Maybe his life was threatened when he was in the Soviet Union so he had to write that. I’ll bet when he landed back on American soil he repudiated it.

This quote from Baldwin appeared in the Harvard Class Book of 1935, titled "Thirty Years Later", spotlighting Baldwin's class of 1905 on its thirtieth anniversary:

“I am for socialism, disarmament and ultimately for abolishing the state itself as an instrument of violence and compulsion. I seek the social ownership of property, the abolition of the propertied class and sole control by those who produce wealth. Communism is, of course, the goal.”

Well… maybe it was a belated fraternity prank.

Can you name one communist country where the following 45 words have gone over well?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Oh yeah, I forgot. Who needs the First Amendment when you get free dental?

Let’s see. I’ll just scan the Internet here. What’s this? The ACLU of Tennessee’s web site…

“ACLU-TN has compiled a list of movies that illustrate prominent civil liberties issues. So settle into the couch, grab the popcorn, and enjoy!”

This is getting weird.

They picked movies like “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “All the President’s Men”. I wonder why they don’t have “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” on the list.   I thought they’d have really dug that one. Oh wait, I forgot. At the end all the people in town gather around, hold hands and joyously sing Christmas carols. That must have been too depressing for the ACLU.

What if we made a remake of the Dr. Seuss classic and the title was changed to “How the Grinch Stole the ‘Holiday’” and at the end everyone in town danced around naked and smeared cow dung on themselves in honor of Winter Solstice? Their Pagan ritual brings beat poet Allen Ginsberg back from the dead. Then Ginsberg forms a local chapter of the North American Man Boy Love Association. Now that would be an ACLU happy ending. Actually, I just saw the cartoon on TV as a kid; I never saw the remake starring Jim Carrey a few years ago. Maybe that’s how they ended it. Who knows?

They even divide the movies into categories: Access to Information/Freedom of the Press, Criminal Justice, Discrimination, Due Process, Employees’ Rights, Freedom of Association, Free Speech, Internment of Japanese-Americans, LGBT/HIV/AIDS, Privacy, Religious Freedom, Reproductive Freedom, Social Tolerance, Censored Movies, and Just for Fun.

These ones were under “Freedom of Association”:

“The Front (1976) - Woody Allen stars as a writer who serves as a “front” for blacklisted scriptwriters during the McCarthy era. Zero Mostel and Danny Aiello also star. This is one of the few Woody Allen movies that Allen did not write or direct.

“The Majestic (2001) - This film, set during the McCarthy era, tells the story of a Hollywood writer struggling with amnesia and the power of the blacklist. Jim Carrey and Martin Landeau star.

“Guilty by Suspicion (1991) - This movie involves a successful movie director who is forced to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s. The film stars Robert DeNiro, Annette Bening, George Wendt and Patricia Wettig.”

I can’t believe this one was listed under “Religious Freedom” instead of “Freedom of Association”:

The Crucible (1996) - This movie, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, and Joan Allen, is an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s allegorical drama about the Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts. Miller wrote the play in response to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s.”

Daniel Day-Lewis stars in this adoption of Arthur Miller’s play and in real life married Miller’s daughter. (From “My Left Foot” to “My Leftist Father-in-Law”.)

Mark Steyn ( explains Miller a lot better than I ever could, or anybody ever could, in this excerpt from a column he wrote called “Ballyhooed ‘Crucible’ was way out in left field”, written in February 2005 shortly after the Death of a Playwright:

“I tired of his plays long before the politics. In London in the '80s and '90s, there seemed to be a new Arthur Miller every month, until they all blurred into one unending premiere ''The Ride Down Mt. Morgan,'' ''The Last Yankee,'' ''The American Clock,'' ''Broken Glass,'' ''The Last American,'' ''The Ride Down Broken Glass,'' ''The Last Yankee Down Mt. Morgan,'' ''The American Yankee,'' ''Broken Clock,'' all playing like scenes that got cut from the out-of-town tryouts of his early hits, all circling back not just to the same broad themes but the same plot — the crushing rottenness of America — and the same resolution — suicide — and, when the cupboard got really bare, the same character: his ever marketable ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe.

“Happily for his bank balance, Miller's utter humorlessness was taken merely as further evidence of his great "moral" seriousness; his tin ear for the rhythm of American speech was mistaken for poetry; and nobody seemed to mind that his characters were thin, and his female ones even more emaciated, especially the ones based on Marilyn. ''It is astonishing,'' wrote the New Republic's Robert Brustein in his review of ''After The Fall'' (1968), ''that he could live with this unfortunate woman for over four years and yet be capable of no greater insights into her character.'' It requires some perverse skill to be able to demolish even Marilyn Monroe as a stage presence, but in his multiple attempts to wring a hit play out of their marriage Miller never failed to snuff her candle in his windiness.

“But there were always the revivals. The playwright's most lucrative year was 1984, when Dustin Hoffman starred in ''Salesman'' on Broadway. Miller may have disliked shows, but he understood show business. He and Hoffman cut themselves in as co-producers with Robert Whitehead, who did most of the actual producing. After the opening, the other two strong-armed Whitehead into agreeing to a dramatic reduction of his share of the take — Hoffman and Miller would each get 45 percent of the production's profits, leaving 10 percent for Whitehead. ''Arthur likes money,'' Whitehead said. And there are few surer get-rich-quick schemes than a savage indictment of the cheap hucksterism at the heart of the American Dream. When it came to peddling anti-Americanism at home and abroad, he was a much better salesman than Willy Loman.

“Miller was the most useful of the useful idiots. It was a marvelous inspiration to recast the communist "hysteria" of the 1950s as the Salem witch trials of the 1690s. Many people have pointed out the obvious flaw with ''The Crucible'' — that there were no witches, whereas there were certainly communists. For one thing, they were gobbling up a lot of real estate: They seized Poland in 1945, Bulgaria in '46, Hungary and Romania in '47, Czechoslovakia in '48, China in '49; they very nearly grabbed Greece and Italy; they were the main influence on the nationalist movements of Africa and Asia. Imagine the Massachusetts witch trials if the witches were running Virginia, New York and New Hampshire, and you might have a working allegory. As it is, Miller's play is an early example of the distinguishing characteristic of the modern Western left: its hermetically sealed parochialism. His genius was to give his fellow lefties what's become their most cherished article of faith — that any kind of urgent national defense is, by definition, paranoid and hysterical. It was untrue in the '50s, and it's untrue today. Indeed, the hysteria about hysteria — the ''criminalization'' of ''dissent'' — is far more hysterical than the hysteria about Reds.”### 

All contents © 2006 by Gene Mahoney