The Shale City Communist
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on July 19, 2005.
He may be a Communist, but he's our Communist. That appears to be the attitude of Dalton Trumbo's local admirers who plan to republish Eclipse, his 1935 novel set in Grand Junction, a.k.a. Shale City.
Meanwhile, a new book by Robert Mayhew harshly criticizes the "Hollywood Ten," a group to which Trumbo belonged that went to jail rather than testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947. That book, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia: Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood, includes Rand's HUAC testimony.
Trumbo was born in Montrose on December 9, 1905. He grew up in Grand Junction and went to college at the University of Colorado, where a fountain is now named after him. Then he moved to Los Angeles. In 1943 he joined the Communist Party. In Eclipse he writes about the character John Abbott at the Emporium in Grand Junction.
Rand was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia on February 2, 1905. She lived through the 1917 revolution and the 1922 establishment of the Soviet Union. She graduated from the University of Leningrad in 1924. She arrived in New York in 1926 and soon moved to Los Angeles. In 1936 she finished We the Living, a novel critical of Soviet Russia. In Atlas Shrugged she writes about the character John Galt, who retreats to the mountains of Western Colorado.
Releasing Trumbo's book is a good idea. Turning him into some kind of local hero is not. Mayhew notes the Communist Party was "funded by, controlled by, and working in the interest of a foreign government, namely, Soviet Russia." Stalin, the dictator supported by Trumbo's party, obliterated individual rights and slaughtered millions.
Yet Westword's Patricia Calhoun describes Trumbo's fountain as "a monument honoring a CU alum willing to risk jail and career suicide in order to support free speech."
Free speech? What about free speech of those murdered by the regime that Trumbo glorified? Mayhew dedicates his book: "In memory of the Lubyanka Thousand -- the over one thousand writers murdered in the Soviet Union during the period the Hollywood Ten supported Stalin -- and to Ayn Rand, who made it out."
Rand testified, "It is almost impossible to convey to a free people what it is like to live in a totalitarian dictatorship... Try to imagine what it is like if you are in constant terror from morning till night and at night you are waiting for the doorbell to ring... living in a country where human life is nothing, less than nothing, and you know it... where there is no law and any rights of any kind."
Art Eckstein writes for FrontPageMag.com, "In 1944, Dalton Trumbo... voluntarily 'named names' to the FBI -- not of Communists (of course), but of people of various political views..." In addition, Eckstein claims, "Trumbo was part of the Party's inquisition against the screenwriter Albert Maltz in 1946, for Maltz's published statement that artists should be free to say what they feel..." So Trumbo seems to have pulled his victim card from his sleeve.
However, just because the Communists were reprehensible doesn't mean their critics always kept to the higher ground. Trumbo is usually seen as a victim of McCarthyism. Senator Joe McCarthy rose to prominence several years after the 1947 HUAC hearings (and he wasn't on the committee), but his name is today synonymous with inquisitorial excess.
In a recent paper for the Independence Institute, David Kopel describes McCarthyism as stripping people of their rights "without due process, based on mere suspicion." The abuse of political power to punish people without due process should always be condemned.
However, Rand pointed out that the Communist Party engaged in "acts of criminal violence" and had "allegiances to a foreign power."
As for the Hollywood blacklists, Rand pointed out that anti-Communists were also blacklisted -- by the left. She wrote, "Should the Hollywood Ten suffer unpopularity or loss of jobs as a result of being Communists? They most certainly should -- so long as the rest of us, who give them jobs or box-office support, do not wish to be Communists or accessories to the spread of Communism."
Unfortunately, as Eckstein notes, the blacklists also hurt people who weren't members of the Communist Party or who may have had only distant connections to it.
On the other side, the left's misinformation campaign about the Communist Party and Stalinist Russia has continued for decades. The left often smears its opponents as "McCarthyites," regardless of the facts.
Listening to Rand when she appeared before Congress, even with her heavy Russian accent, one easily hears her clarity of thought in attacking Communism. Listening to Trumbo when he appeared before Congress, even with his heavy Coloradoan accent, one does not hear his clarity of thought on Communism, but his evasion and grasping for pretexts. The same can be said of the heroes of Rand and Trumbo.