Tuesday, November 6, 2012
I’ve usually made it a policy not to talk about works of fiction that I'm writing while in progress, but since I’ve retired, or gone on strike, I’m talking. My workshop was the place where the written page was produced. Now I’m blabbing to whoever wants to know.
Some time ago I told my friend Franetta about an idea for a fiction project based on the theme of turning something inside out. I began with the ideological concept and Franetta finished by saying that it sounded like it needed to be a novel.
With the Progressive Era and the Bolshevik Revolution contributing to form what is called the “left” in 20th century politics, there followed the reaction, or the formation of the ideological “right,” characterized by the Fascist march on Rome by Mussolini only a few years after the Russian Revolution. In the language of ideology, the former represented “the dictum of the proletariat,” while the latter, the reaction, represented “the dictum of the bourgeoisie.” Historically and geopolitically speaking, these dicta represented martial forms ostensively led by Stalin on behalf of the Bolsheviks, or Communists, and Hitler on behalf of the Fascists, or the virulent and racist variant called the Nazism. This is an oversimplified background for the idea for the novel.
In the United States this ideological conflict was not as acute as it had been in Europe, but existed nonetheless, in a “softer” form. In the United States during the 1930s, when Capitalism had been weakened by The Great Depression, President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which had been considered by right wingers to be a slippery slope toward Communism, was challenged by extremists who believed that Fascism was not only an antidote to a Communist threat perceived to be lurking within New Deal policies, but was also a martial form of Capitalism that had the potential for lifting us out of The Great Depression. Thus is the basis for my idea for the novel.
Cutting to the chase, the novel begins with the United States House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigating an attempted Fascist coup d’état of the United States government financed by elements of those in the corporate and banking sectors and led by a phalanx of disgruntled military veterans from the American Legion, Pinkerton thugs and other recruits to be led by an American military hero like General John J. Pershing, or Douglas MacArthur, or U.S. Marine General Smedley Butler. In this actual incident, after an attempt to recruit Butler was made, Butler blew the whistle on the plot, which led to an investigation by HUAC. However, after the first reelection of Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, the tone of HUAC’s investigations changed. Under the chairmanship of Congressman Martin Dies (D-Texas) the investigation turned toward suspected Communist influence within the Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), especially the Federal Writers’, Artists’, and Theatre Projects. A good depiction of this move by Congressional extremists can be found in the 1999 film Cradle Will Rock.
In my idea for a novel, which I would entitled Whitelisted, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) does not get taken over by paranoid extremists like Martin Dies and continues to investigate real Fascist and Nazi influences instead of suspected and alleged “Communist” influence.
In Whitelisted, after the war, HUAC continues its investigations, but instead of investigating persons with alleged “Communist” ties, it continues to investigate those with Fascist and Nazi sympathies. Instead of Alger Hiss being sent to prison, Charles Lindbergh, who had accepted the Service Cross of the German Eagle in 1938 from Hermann Goering on Hitler’s orders, found himself in hot water. Instead of the Hollywood 10 being “blacklisted,” others in Hollywood, like up and coming actors Ronald Reagan and John Wayne, found the best work they could get was in local community theatre. Instead of members in the leadership of the American Communist Party and a number of suspected labor union leaders being sent to prison, members of the John Birch Society were imprisoned. Political purges take place within the American Legion and Pinkerton Agency to sweep out Fascist and Nazi elements. Entertainers like Paul Robeson, Hope Foye, and the Weavers are never blacklisted and go on to have stellar careers. Theodore Bickel finally earns an Academy Award. The writer William F. Buckley can only get published in small community newspapers, while Dalton Trumbo earns a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Ayn Rand can only publish her fiction in boiled down versions in obscure pamphlets and Mickey Spillane is forced to self publish small mimeographed copies of his novels. The Ku Klux Klan is driven underground and many of its most vociferous spokesmen are driven into the woodwork like cockroaches when the lights are turned on.
It’s natural to think that such a scenario would have been improbable. Typically, liberals of the Franklin Roosevelt New Deal tradition have neither the stomach nor backbone for the kind of inquisition those conservatives have, especially those that range from the Joe McCarthy stripe to neo-conservative inquisitional tactics of today –– the Obama birth certificate paranoia being a good example. Yet, with the right kinds of circumstances, perhaps under the initiation of a strong personality, such an occurrence might be made possible through the crafty use of fiction.
Fiction enables conclusions to be ascertained, providing an ending to the novel, evoking and provoking subjects that may be discovered beneath the surface or in plain sight. One such conclusion that might surface is how those victims of these kinds of official inquisitions tend to be cultural figures such as writers, actors and entertainers, and how dangerous they are perceived to be. The next question to consider is why such is the case. Could the answers be suggested by the tendency for artists of all varieties to seek safe havens, such as retreating into the notion of art for art’s sake or poetry for poetry’s sake? Historically, could this help to explain, or even merely introduce the discussion about, the prevalence of abstract expressionism in art after World War II where form obscures content, or the prominence of imagist tinged poetry where appreciation of it is often the product of rigorous deconstruction, usually in an academic setting?
These kinds of issues could be fleshed out through the kind of novel I propose. The post war effort by the Central Intelligence Agency in collusion with a number of corporations and their foundations to influence and shape the post war cultural environment is already somewhat known. The proposed novel Whitelisted could bring these kinds of issues to the forefront, but I won’t be writing it. No one would publish it. I can’t afford to publish it myself. I’ve already written novels that sit on the shelves of a couple local libraries and are never taken out. I have small piles of my unsold novels in my cramped apartment. And I live in poverty and it’s a struggle to keep my head above water. Believe it or not, there are those who are glad of that. They keep the blacklists.