Friday, August 17, 2012

Hunting Witches with Ayn Rand

            In 2009, after the election of Barack Obama, Paul Ryan reiterated his great admiration for Ayn Rand, the high priestess of greed.  According to Ryan, Rand’s work shows clearly the moral justification for capitalism.  (

            In The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Rand depicts a world run by an elite, the prime movers of society, to whom all lesser persons ought to be grateful.
            It should not be surprising, then, that Ayn Rand appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 as a friendly witness against communist influences in Hollywood.  Nor should it be surprising that she really didn’t know what she was talking about.
            At the request of HUAC, Rand watched a movie, Song of Russia, produced by Louis B. Mayor in 1943.  She then told the committee her reactions.  She described it as a work of propaganda that inaccurately portrayed life in the Soviet Union.  
            The hero of the movie, an American conductor played by Robert Taylor, goes to Russia — first to Moscow and then to a farming village.  In Moscow, he finds large, clean, prosperous-looking buildings.  He dines at a splendid restaurant.  He sees no bread lines, no ragged children.  Rand told HUAC that in the village:

You see the happy peasants.  You see they are meeting the hero at the station with bands, with beautiful blouses and shoes, such as they never wore anywhere.  You see children with operetta costumes on them and with a brass band which they could never afford.  You see the manicured starlets driving tractors and the happy women who come from work singing.  You see a peasant at home with a close­up of food for which anyone there would have been murdered.  If anybody had such food in Russia in that time he couldn't remain alive, because he would have been torn apart by neighbors trying to get food…

            The movie also shows peasants freely practicing their religious beliefs, scenes for which Rand expressed justifiable distain.
            In fact, Rand’s account of the movie was accurate in all but the most important respect. 
            Song of Russia was indeed propaganda — because it was one of three movies commissioned by the United States government to counteract prior propaganda and present our World War II ally in a favorable light.  Hollywood did its patriotic duty and made:

Song of Russia, Mission to Moscow, and North Star, written by Lillian Hellman.  Hellman’s script was extensively rewritten.  The words “socialism” and “communism” were deleted; the ending was changed; songs were added; the movie very nearly became a musical Western!  During the Red Scare following World War II, North Star, as tepid as it was, was cited as an example of communist influence in the film industry.  National Telefilm Associates bought North Star and completely sterilized it.  Every use of the word “comrade” was cut; footage of Soviet intervention into Hungary was spliced in; a voice-over warned about the growing danger in the East.  (Dan Georgakas, “The Revisionist Releases of North Star,” Cineaste, April 1996, Vol. 22, #1, p. 46)  The transition was complete.  A claim about the chocolate ration was changed.
How the West was Lost, Jerrold Smith

            The investigations of Hollywood to expose imaginary communist subversion actually served as cover for the very real infiltration of the movie industry by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  However unwittingly, Ayn Rand served their cause.
            Catholic Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan has recently found it expedient to distance himself from atheist Ayn Rand.  Nevertheless, Paul Ryan is still out there, still hunting witches.  He seeks higher office, the better to pursue them.

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