On Discussing Hollywood Boycotts
Tibor R. Machan
Joe McCarthy was probably a bully and what he wanted to do with those who held communists views, especially inside the federal government, may at times have gone over the top. But as any good Monday-morning-quarterbacker must admit—what with the opening of all the files on the Soviets back in the days of blacklisting—old Joe had a lot of things right, especially about Reds among the Feds.
One this is sure—communists, including many of those in Hollywood who got blacklisted (boycotted) because of this, were far worse than McCarthy. For anyone today to depict Soviet communist sympathizers as victims either of blacklisting or McCarthyism, when they either foolishly or deliberately aided and abetted Soviet efforts to export communism and help overthrow the American government, is a gross mistake.
A recent panel discussion—with Richard Schickel (TIME film critic, noted film historian and author of the new Elia Kazan: A Biography), James Hirsen (best-selling author, Hollywood Nation), Ron Radosh (Red Star over Hollywood), Patrick Goldstein (LA Times film critic, columnist), Ed Rampell (author, Progressive Hollywood) and Jeff Britting of the Ayn Rand Institute (producer of the Oscar-nominated Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life)—put on by the Liberty Film Festival, dealt with the history of Hollywood blacklisting. Very early in the discussion Jeff Britting presented Ayn Rand’s ideas on blacklisting. The gist of it went that if one seriously disapproves of someone's views, one has every right (and often ought) to boycott them. Otherwise one is aiding and abetting someone who is working against one’s ideals. Accordingly, if one is pro-capitalist and they are procommunist, one has the right and maybe even the responsibility to boycott and, if possible, blacklist them.
This really is a simple idea: Jews who didn't wish to purchase German cars even way after WWII were engaging in such a justified boycott—refusing to give jobs to and enrich Germans who were very likely complicit in the horrors of Nazism. If one refuses to hire someone to clean one’s home or type one’s manuscripts or whatever, someone who is an avowed or secret but well enough known communist, one is doing the right thing. If one, a pro-choice advocate, refuses to do business with pro-life advocates, this makes perfectly good moral sense.
Generally, Rand held that one has every right to make a determination who one will freely do business with. She was not advocating any government action against the Hollywood folks. She did, however, think they were morally depraved for giving aid and comfort to Soviets and their American spies. So Hollywood had every right, even responsibility, to boycott or blacklist them.
Upon airing these views as Rand’s, Britting was told his ideas are ridiculous—by Schickle and some others. Even Ron Radosh, who is an ex-Communist but has long since recanted, made a special point of dismissing and deriding Rand’s viewpoint on this issue.
This is actually quite amazing in this day and age. The Left, after all, and many sympathetic toward the blacklisted group endorse all kinds of measures taken against those who are politically incorrect—just recall how Harvard president Larry Summers was derided for suggesting women may not be as fit for science as men (NOW wanted him to resign or be fired). And here they ridicule the very straightforward moral point that one has a right to refuse to associate with those who hold what one understands to be morally repugnant views. What if I refused to hire someone who is a racist—would those on the Left denounce me on the grounds, aired at this conference by some defenders of the blacklisted people, that racism is after all my private point of view and my membership in the KKK has nothing to do with my job as a screenwriter or director of Hollywood movies? This is incredible.
But there I was, watching these people make utter fools of themselves probably because they were engaged in self-censorship, namely, refusing to show be seen agreeing on any issue with Ayn Rand. Why? Well, because Ayn Rand is viewed with vehement hatred by the Left. But not only by the Left. Radosh, who is now mostly in cahoots with all those who saw Reds under every bed back in the McCarthy era, seems also unable to bring himself to grant Rand a simple point, that each of us has a right to freedom of association, be this in our personal or professional relationships.
I think Jeff Britter, with his Randian ideas, was treated shabbily and hypocritically. Those on the Left clearly believe in boycotting people with whom they disagree—racists, male chauvinists, advocates of capitalism. But that is just it. (Anyone remember Caesar Chavez?) They are so virulently anti-capitalist that if someone like Ayn Rand, who is very visibly and prominently on record as being pro-capitalist, says something that is obviously true, they will deny it simply because she said it and they want to show the world that they are never, never on her side.