If you trace the so-called principles of the Labour MPs who voted to bomb Iraq — and who will no doubt soon vote to renew Trident — their slug-trail invariably leads to Washington. Right-wing Labour MPs are brand ambassadors for US imperialism. They simply take it for granted that in any situation America will be the good guys. The Labour right really does believe that America is the “land of the free”.
This month a new movie and newly published book help to remind us just what total piffle this view of America is.
Firstly there is the sparkling new film, Trumbo. Director Jay Roach and his star Bryan Cranston have produced a film from that most rare of genres — a left-wing feel-good movie. It tells the horror story of what America did to a generation of its best writers and artists through the fate of Dalton Trumbo.
In 1945 Trumbo was one of the highest-paid screenwriters in Hollywood, but he was also a Communist. When Uncle Sam needed Uncle Joe during the Second World War this had been tolerated, but in post-war America the ruling class determined to stamp out dissent by any means necessary. So Trumbo and nine other Hollywood insiders were summoned to appear before the House on Un-American Activities Committee and in 1947 the Hollywood Ten were sent to prison.
It is important to remember here that the US Communist Party was a perfectly legal organisation and belonging to it was, by definition, not a crime. The movie makes it quite clear that Trumbo and his comrades were banged up for being lefties.
Driven by the studio bosses in the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and cheered on by right wing blowhards like John Wayne and Walt Disney, there followed a merciless jihad against anyone in the US media who dared to think for themselves. Tens of thousands of American radicals were sacked and then blacklisted in the name of freedom.
On his release from prison Trumbo carried on doing what he did best — either producing scripts for Poverty Row no‑budget producers or working under pseudonyms. This produced the farcical moment when the 1953 Oscar for best script went to one “Robert Rich”, a man who didn’t exist. It was a made-up name to hide the fact that the blacklisted Trumbo had written it. Finally in 1960 Kirk Douglas (no less) insisted that Trumbo be given on-screen credit for the script of Spartacus. Just this once Kirk really was Spartacus.
Significantly the final words on that script are, “I will return and I will be millions.” Trumbo had been blacklisted and dishonoured but he had never been broken — and this defiance is captured superbly in Trumbo.
Fittingly it has exactly the kind of script that Trumbo himself produced: a classic narrative story arc, witty dialogue and a deft humour, rich characters giving actors the chance to shine and all in the service of a deeply serious theme — the injustice of the American system.
In case you think things have improved since then, Jane Mayer’s new book Dark Money suggests just how wrong you are. Mayer’s subtitle says it all: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.
Mayer is a New York Times reporter and she spent five years researching the secretive, malevolent Koch brothers (the fifth and sixth richest men in the US).
This Voldemortian pair use their obscene wealth to promote what Irvine Welsh calls “shit-in-the-bed neo-liberalism”. Less scatologically Milton Friedman once admitted it was “socialism for the super-rich”.
The Koch’s dark and dirty money finances anti-abortion campaigns, attacks on welfare provision, anti-union drives, the curtailing of minority civil rights and campaigns to trash the science of global warming.
They sell this through compliant think tanks and sock-puppet academics and through their wholly-owned front, the Tea Party. In the 2016 presidential race the Koch machine is spending $900 million to sell whatever neanderthal the Republicans run — as long as it isn’t Trump, because he is not conservative enough for the Kochs.
Naturally the Kochs peddle their right-wing poison with the usual catechism of “freedom” sanctified by the usual hillbilly Guns ’n’ Moses bullshit. But in truth they are just capitalist predators on the make. As Mayer says, “It is impossible not to notice that the political policies they endorsed benefitted their own bottom lines first and foremost”.
Mayer says simply that their plan is to “repeal every major reform of the 20th century” and use their wealth “to impose minority views on the majority”. In what world is this “democracy”, let alone “freedom”?
Chillingly, Mayer reveals that the Kochs learned their politics from their father Fred, a Nazi fanboy who made his fortune building oil refineries for his idol, Adolf Hitler.
What links the Hollywood witch hunt to the Koch conspiracy is the understain of systemic racism. One underexplored aspect of the blacklist was that almost every black actor with a toehold career in Hollywood was sacked and blacklisted.
Later Fred Koch would baldly say, “The coloured man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America.” Today American cops use black youths for target practice. Only in a land as racist as the US could the words “Black Lives Matter” be a controversial statement rather than a simple truism.