We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Mark Steyn on Elia Kazan

There’s a terrific Steyn piece to be read here. I’m not sure if I could have read it sooner, without purchasing the Atlantic Monthly in paper form but I am delighted to have read it now.

Final two paragraphs:

Amid the herd-like moral poseurs, Kazan was always temperamentally an outsider, and his work benefited after he became one in a more formal sense. But, both before and after, his best productions concern themselves with a common question: the point at which you’re obliged to break with your own – your union, your class, your group, or, in Kazan’s case, your Group. The 1947 Oscar-winner Gentleman’s Agreement strikes most contemporary observers as very tame, square Kazan. But, in a curious way, that’s the point. When you start watching and you realize it’s an issue movie “about” anti-semitism, you expect it to get ugly, to show us Jew-bashing in the schoolyard, and vile language about kikes. But it stays up the genteel end with dinner party embarrassments, restricted resort hotels, an understanding about the sort of person one sells one’s property to. Dorothy McGuire and her Connecticut friends aren’t bad people, but in their world, as much as on Johnny Friendly’s waterfront, people conform: they turn a blind eye to the Jew-disparaging joke, they discreetly avoid confronting the truth about the hotel’s admission policies, and, as Gregory Peck comes to understand, they’re the respectable face of what at the sharp end means pogroms and genocide.

That’s what all those Hollywood and Broadway Communists did. They were the polite front of an ideology that led to mass murder, and they expected Kazan to honour their gentleman’s agreement. In those polite house parties Gregory Peck goes to in Kazan’s movie, it’s rather boorish and tedious to become too exercised about anti-semitism. And likewise, at gatherings in the arts, it’s boorish and tedious to become too exercised about Communism – no matter how many faraway, foreign, unglamorous people it kills. Elia Kazan was on the right side of history. His enemies line up with the apologists for thugs and tyrants. Whose reputation would you bet on in the long run?

Well I surely hope that that last rhetorical non-question is correct, and anyway, even if it isn’t, merely agreeing with posterity is not the point. The point is being morally right now, and if posterity is wrong, so much the worse for posterity. That aside, this is the kind of piece that makes me want Mark Steyn to carry on carrying on for just as long as he can manage it. Morally he says all the right things here, and he is obviously so well informed about the artistic issues that no semi-philistine from Hollywood would dare to play the philistine card. Of such pieces are ideological victories fashioned. For as long as there are anti-anti-communists in business, then for so long should they be lambasted until anyone they might influence gets the point.

I am very proud of my little contribution to the anti-anti-anti-communist genre, a piece called Why I Support The Contras. My one regret about this is that it is available in pdf form only, as yet. (I will correct this Real Soon Now.) And now, like Johnathan Pearce in the previous posting, I say, never forget what Communism did and what its disgustingly self-righteous stooges in the West are still retrospectively fronting for.

This (it seems I can read at least quite a lot of Atlantic Monthly on line) makes the same point.

4 comments to Mark Steyn on Elia Kazan

  • Kelli

    I second Brian’s paean to the folks at the Atlantic Monthly. A few months back, I had the opportunity to meet with the publisher and general editor of the magazine, which has been brought back from near-death by a huge transfusion of cash and energy by David Bradley. Despite losing editorial guidance from Mike Kelly (killed in Iraq last year) the magazine is currently reviving the “serious” periodical market in America almost single-handedly.

    How? By allowing strong voices from every corner of the political and intellectual spectrum free reign, and interspersing their articles randomly throughout every issue. In a world where lefties read lefty magazines and righties stick to their own vetted materials, this is amazingly refreshing and empowering.

    And no, I do not work for the Atlantic. These are the opinions of a wholly free mind.

  • Elia Kazan was on the right side of history. His enemies line up with the apologists for thugs and tyrants. Whose reputation would you bet on in the long run?

    It’s not really that simple. Jews supported Communism quite disproportionately, at least before Stalin turned Trotsky’s internationalist project into a Russian nationalist project (and started persecuting Jews and so on).

    For example, here’s Richard Pipes, Harvard historian and Daniel’s Dad:

    Solzhenitsyn reserves his hostility for those assimilated Jews who, from the 1860s onward, in large numbers joined the revolutionary movement. He cites name after name, and he conveys the impression that Jews supplied the leadership as well as the rank and file of this movement, adding naively that his stress on Jewish radicals “does not mean, of course, that there were not many and important revolutionaries among the Russians.”

    The subject is very complicated. Although Jews, especially converts, did play a significant part in radical subversion, the ranks of the revolutionaries were certainly dominated by Russians. At one point Solzhenitsyn asserts quite wrongly (citing a Jewish writer) that Jews imported Marxism to Russia. In reality, this was the work of Russians such as George Plekhanov, who organized in Switzerland Russia’s first Marxist party, and Peter Struve, who popularized Marx’s ideas inside the country. Statistics on this controversial subject are scarce, and most of the evidence is impressionistic and anecdotal.

    Still, it cannot be doubted that the proportion of Jews in the ranks of Russian revolutionaries significantly exceeded the proportion of Jews in the population at large. This fact, previously played down by Jewish historians, was confirmed a few years ago by Erich Haberer in his study Jews and Revolution in Nineteenth Century Russia. But what sort of criterion is this by which to measure the role of an ethnic group in public life? If Jews were prominent in socialist ranks, they also stood out in capitalist circles: in the judgment of the German historian Werner Sombart, they actually invented capitalism. They were also over-represented among physicists, chemists, mathematicians, medical doctors, chess players, university students, and the many other occupations that called for intellectual distinction. Indeed, if the standard is to be the share in the population at large, then it must also be noted that Jews were disproportionately attracted also to fascism. “In Italy there were innumerable Fascist Jews,” Zeev Sternhell observed in The Birth of Fascist Ideology. “Their percentage in the movement was much higher than in the population as a whole.” Conversely, they were under-represented among Russia’s murderers and arsonists.

    So what are we to make of all this? Only that, as Solzhenitsyn likes to stress, Jews are a highly dynamic nation: as such, they are over-represented in most fields of endeavor in which they participate. Just to set the record straight, let it be noted that in 1917, when they got their chance to vote freely in national elections, the majority of Russian Jews cast ballots not for the Socialists or the Communists but for the Zionists: thus, in the All-Jewish Congress, they cast 60 percent of the vote for the Zionists. The Communist Party census of 1922 revealed that less than one thousand Jews had joined the party before 1917.

    There is another aspect to this vexing issue. Virtually all the Jews who joined the revolutionary movement broke with their religion and community: they were apostates. Typical was the attitude of Trotsky when he was approached by the chief rabbi of Moscow during the Civil War with a plea to help fellow Jews victimized by the pogroms. “I am not a Jew,” he angrily replied. “I am an Internationalist.” The high percentage of Jews in the ranks of the revolutionaries only serves to demonstrate that Jews who abandon their religion and turn their backs on their people become uprooted and hence capable of the wildest excesses–which does not detract from Judaism, but redounds, on the contrary, to its credit.

    I’m not trying to make it into a simple matter of “All Jews are communists”, which is why I excerpted the surrounding paragraphs. Other market dominant minorities like the Chinese, in Malaysia have been involved in Communist revolution.

    But – that said – I can certainly understand why a Christian Russian from the Soviet Union might be anti-Semitic in the same way a Jew who’d escaped Nazi Germany might be anti-German. The mass murders of Orthodox Christians stood in stark contrast to the fate of the Jews, who were even given a Zionist homeland by Stalin in Birobidzhan…until he turned around and started persecuting them with the Doctor’s plot.

    It’s a complex topic. Stalin and Lenin were not Jewish, but many of the members of the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) were. But that’s a strawman, as Jews were very disproportionately involved in the regime.

    Bottom line – the Jews are not an innocent people, as everyone has blood on their hands.

    Ironically, it is the crimes of Israel that are overexaggerated while the crimes of Communist Jews are underplayed.

    Lest you think I’m somehow being dishonest or selectively citing, I give you Edward Shapiro

    Jews had good reasons, apart from the fear of right–wing reprisals, for wishing to eliminate Communists from their ranks. Despite what his American apologists claimed, Stalin had made it clear by the early 1950s—through the murder of Russia’s leading Jewish intellectuals, by talk of a Jewish “doctors’ plot” against the Soviet Union, by opposition to the state of Israel, and by the repression of Jewish cultural and religious activities behind the Iron Curtain—that he was no friend of the Jews.

    This Reason article might also be of interest.

  • R. C. Dean

    godless, that may be the longest non sequitur I’ve ever read. Steyn is talking about Hollywood, and how so many in Hollywood have chosen sides, and which side is likely to be judged favorably by history (assuming the self-serving mythology of the leftists dissipates).

    What the activities of a bunch of assimilated Jews in Russia 40 years before the blacklist have to do with this, I cannot begin to imagine. Why the fact that Jews were prominent supporters of Communism in Russia might be cited to “complicate” the analysis of the self-serving lightweights in Hollywood as stooges and fools, is quite beyond me.

  • Reid of America


    You omit one the major reasons many Jews were communists. Equality. The communists promised the Jews equality under law and full citizenship. Jews, by law, were not citizens of Czarist Russia but resident aliens even if their families had lived there for 500 years. They were second class citizens that were frequently brutalized and killed in mass numbers with no criminal consequences for the perpertrators.

    For an intellectual to be a communist 100 years is understandable. Today it is pathetic.