The Old Left and The “Warmonger” Roosevelt


In the Vietnam era, when the “New Hollywood,” shorthand for sixties’ leftists taking charge of the movies, lionized the Old Left in films like The Way We Were and The Front, they did so with the script used by American Stalinists during the early days of the Cold War; that those blacklisted were merely innocent New Dealers in “a hurry,” who were unfortunately caught in a crunch when the political climate shifted from FDR liberalism to anti-New Deal rightism.

An example of this was The Way We Were, a moist treatment of Hollywood Stalinists, and the vicious treatment afforded them by American “fascists.” In a genius of casting, Barbara Streisand played a hyperactive Communist who was more New Deal than Marxist. By turns, those who attacked her were Roosevelt haters (in one scene she is shell-shocked when Roosevelt dies, while a blue-blood for making crude jokes about him).

But this consistent support of Roosevelt by the Old Left slights the historical record. Although supportive of him during World War II when America was allied with Stalin against Hitler, there was a time when they castigated FDR as much as they would accuse the “rightists” of doing. And the impetus would come from Stalin.

Hollywood Party members, on cue from Stalin in 1935 who suddenly realized that Hitler might be a danger (although this didn’t stop him from secretly courting the Nazi leader) became decidedly anti-Nazi and anti-isolationist. Joining the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League with fervent New Dealers, they supported Roosevelt’s domestic policies and approved of the anti-Nazi direction his foreign policy was taking.

But then came the Hitler-Stalin Non-Aggression Pact in 1939. Once supposedly anti-fascist, the Soviet Union was now pledged never to fight Hitler; and together the two dictators jointly invaded Poland—an action that started World War II. Now the word from Moscow was that to aid any country under siege from the Nazis would be engaging in an “Imperialist War.” As Roosevelt began sending aid to beleaguered Britain, the CPUSA saw this as aiding a country as “fascist” as Hitler, and the American government was, in reality, trying to establish “a military dictatorship at home.”

Attacks on Great Britain were so severe by Hollywood Party members that, in response to their speeches, a former isolationist screenwriter named Howard Rogers hit them with their formerly anti-fascist rhetoric:

“You may go into lengthy discussions as to the background of England and you may say that England should be punished. But is there any nation in the world today so low in the estimation of any man or woman in this hall tonight that he or she would want to see that nation conquered by Hitler and Nazism?”

Such condemnations caused Party leaders to adopt Newspeak to provide some consistency with their previous anti-fascism and their new-found isolationism. In a convoluted fashion, Party-head Earl Browder stated that the Pact was in fact “anti-fascist,” and was a “wonderful contribution to peace and a victory for the enemies of fascism…that would weaken Hitler at home [and].show Hitler the way to peace.”

The Party also kept their sights trained on Roosevelt. The CPUSA drafted the following statement that there was no distinction between Roosevelt liberalism and Republican “reactionism:”

{The imperialism of World War II)…has at one blow wiped out the former division of the world between the camps of democracy and fascism (as well as} “the old division…between the New Deal and anti-New Deal camps.”

Whereas once American Communists portrayed FDR taking an anti-fascist stance as laudable, now he was denounced in terms that could have come from an isolationist Republican: as a warmonger. The Communist Almanac Singers put these sentiments to music in a 1940 album:

“I hate war, and so does Eleanor, and we won’t be safe until everybody’s dead.’

When Hollywood liberals like actor Melvyn Douglas sought to garner support for Roosevelt’s policies in the Motion Picture Democratic Committee, an organization composed of New Dealers and Communists, Douglas was accused of “red-baiting” and any resolution he sought to put forward in support of Roosevelt was voted down. Disgusted, he and other New Dealers resigned.

Now Communist-dominated, the MPDC attacked Roosevelt as little more than a fascist. His anti-Axis policies and aid to Britain they wrote in 1940, was leading the country to fascism; Roosevelt was a war-monger, who “exploited” the military actions of Hitler “to force a peaceful people into slaughter.”

But then came the Nazi invasion of Russia in June 1941. Without any shame, Communists rediscovered Roosevelt as a laudatory anti-fascist figure. This shameless shift is best exampled by one of the leading Communist critics of Roosevelt during the Pact period, Dalton Trumbo.

Prior to Hitler’s invasion of Russia, he wrote of any American action against the Nazis to “preserve democracy,” as ” lie, a deliberate deception to lead us into our own destruction. We will not die in order that our children may inherit a permanent military dictatorship.”

But during World War II, when FDR and Trumbo’s beloved Stalin were military partners, Trumbo did an about-face:

“…all the conditions which had seemed to me to make for an honest and effective and successful war against the Axis had been fulfilled “{it was now} “a war for the liberation of people.”

As good Party members, they avoided any mention of such thorny matters as previously portraying Roosevelt as a “war-monger”–by the way, a term employed by Hitler toward FDR, before and during World War II. As with the Nazi invasion of Russia, Roosevelt’s death before the Cold War really heated up (in point of fact it was being started by Stalin in early 1945) gave them a wonderful propaganda gift.

Now he was one of their own—an apostle of peace who would have avoided the Cold War by his supposed “empathy” with Stalin. From that moment on, the Old Left would attempt to own Roosevelt, and despite the stark examples of authentic New Dealers and anti-fascists like Melvyn Douglas, leftists today are still fooled.

Ron Capshaw is a Senior Contributor to The Liberty Conservative from Midlothian, Va. His work has appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator.

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