Published October 3, 2003
Elia Kazan, the celebrated stage and film genius, died Sunday at age 94. He richly deserves the lavish praise he has received in the obituaries. He does not deserve the gratuitous and slanted references some of his obituaries have made to his decision to name Hollywood colleagues who had been or were members of the American Communist Party (“Director Kazan is dead at 94,” Nation, Monday).
On April 10, 1952, Mr. Kazan reluctantly gave to the House Un-American Activities Committee the names of eight Hollywood figures who had been associated with him when he was briefly a party member. (Incidentally, one obituary referred to the committee as an “aggressive communist-hunting arm of Congress.”) Mr. Kazan felt it was his patriotic duty to reveal the names of persons affiliated with a party controlled by agents of the Soviet Union who were seeking to subvert the United States.
In response to Mr. Kazan’s testimony, New York’s Village Voice called him “the Lucifer of the Old Left.” Others called him a McCarthyite Judas who saved his own skin by destroying the careers of others whose only sin, as one obituary put it, had simply been “a political affiliation, in many cases, years earlier.” Since 1952, Mr. Kazan has been widely criticized and even shunned by sectors of the liberal intellectual class. Finally, in 1999, perhaps out of unacknowledged shame for the smearing a great American had suffered, Mr. Kazan was given an honorary Oscar.
The long and tenacious assault from the left flies in the face of the facts. In the 1940s and 1950s, Soviet agents were actively using American party members and others to try to achieve their subversive ends. This was known at the time by key government officials and informed American researchers, such as Eric Breindel and Herbert Romerstein. Their findings have been documented in subsequent scholarly books. Some of this research is based on the 1995 Venona Papers — the secret traffic from and to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the 1940s that the U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted and decrypted — now available to scholars and journalists.
Herbert Romerstein, co-author of The Venona Secrets, published in 2000, told me that he knew in 1952 that Elia Kazan’s testimony was accurate. Further, in his view, Mr. Kazan “did the right thing” in exposing members of the Communist Party in Hollywood. From my own acquaintance with the relevant literature, I concur.
The Berlin Wall has fallen. The “Evil Empire” is gone. When will the liberal-left throw off its obsession with anti-anti-communism?