Communism in the Movies -- 2

patriotism under cover
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I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951) comes from the confessional genre that began mostly in print matter. It is a lurid title, and the subject is in fact sensational enough to warrant comparisons to more shocking exposés. As a historical document, it is priceless. Like The Woman on Pier 13, I Was a Communist for the FBI also focuses on the human element. Matt Cvetic (Frank Lovejoy) is an undercover agent. After nine years posing as an active and ardent member of the Communist Party, he is disgusted and decidedly downbeat. His brother hates him. His son rejects him. Blandon, the Party chieftain in Pittsburgh, sends him hither and thither, to do this and that, and it often seems as if he would rather be anyone other than himself. His son's teacher, Eve Merrick (Dorothy Hart), turns out to be a card carrying member. For a while, it seems as though the movie might lighten up a bit. She has innocently fallen for the Party line, having never seen her cynical superiors connive and scheme behind the scenes. Maybe they can help each other. But Cvetic must walk a lonely, uncoupled path until it is time to bust up Pittsburgh's communist cell for real and for good.

In the movie, American communists target big steel. Whereas Pier 13 is moody and, at times, melodramatic, I Was a Communist concentrates on the duplicity of those who pull the strings. They wear nice suits, meet in secret, and give orders that reflect powerful ambitions that disregard feelings for the downtrodden, overworked, and underpaid. They speak of the defense of the Scottsboro Boys as a moneymaker, having raised over a million more than needed. In a speech meant to rally Blacks, pictures of both Joseph Stalin and Abraham Lincoln are shown, side by side, on the wall. They have infiltrated the steel plants and conspire to hire Party members, fire non-Party members, and, upon occasion, arrange for accidents to punish workers who refuse to carry a card.

Is this an accurate portrayal? This one is hard to evaluate. Eye-witnesses are scarce. Credibility is missing. What can be said is that the doings of communist officials truly alarmed the establishment. Mention is made of the trouble caused by the anti-American Activities Committee. Violence is deliberately stirred up at a Steel Workers' Rally. Could Moscow really have instigated a race riot in Detroit? Thugs are hired to murder the teacher, whose loyalty is brought into question. Almost everyone is watched intrusively and obnoxiously. Blandon refers to mourners at a funeral as "sheep". The movie makes Communists look very bad indeed. They do not shrink from any crime or mendacity. All they seem to want is control. And the whole utopianism of Marxist literature is sacrificed in the mix.

After the Red Menace of the late 40s, early 50s began to fade, international politics took over. Democracy might thrive within the USA, but elsewhere, country after country began to fall in line with the Communist bloc. In the absence of a viable communist threat today, it seems as though there is no getting away from competitive regimes that also aspire toward dictatorship. One thing they all share in common is a superficial outward appearance to divert attention from what is really going on. It makes one wonder. Cover stories are usually partly true, not altogether false, such as the religiosity of followers of Mohammad, who both terrorize and observe ritual. Or, the fervor of any extremist no matter what his or her creed or belief system. Obviously, Communists made pitifully small gains in the USA. But in Europe, they found acceptance almost all the way up the ladders of success in politics, business, and the arts. Not all communists are poor or blue collar. The Muscovite form is practically the only one that has gained familiarity . Other versions are obscure, arcane, and dormant. The best one can say is that the Cold War has ended, but game over? Maybe . . . maybe not.

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