J.R. Johnson

On Gone with the Wind

(January 1940)

Originally published in Socialist Appeal, 13 January 1940.
Republished in Scott McLemee (ed.), C.L.R. James on the “Negro Question”, Jackson (Miss.) 1996, pp. 53–55.
Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Stalinists are now whipping up a furious campaign on Gone With the Wind. Their methods are an exact replica of the methods of the Moscow bureaucracy. When Stalin decides to shoot some thousands of Old Bolsheviks, or to denounce Germany (or to praise Germany), or to invade Finland, there suddenly appear in the Moscow press letters, resolutions, exhortations, praising the particular move, extolling it as the highest wisdom, and pointing out that this is exactly what the Soviet workers have been waiting for. Similarly with the Communist Party in every country.

On its issue of 5 January 1940 the Daily Worker prints nearly two columns of letters, of which the following quotation characterizes the tone:

“Well, I simply can’t hold it back any longer. Your excellent and Marxist handling of that smelly film Gone With the Wind was sparkling ...”

The whole Stalinist community, we are made to understand, is simply boiling with rage at the slanders against the Negro people embodied in the film.

Gone With the Wind, however, is not the first film that deals with Negro conditions in the Old South. A little knowledge will be sufficient to show that, behind all this noisy parade, the Stalinists, here as elsewhere, are deceiving the Negro people, and serving exclusively the interests of their paymasters in the Kremlin.

Some ten years ago, when the Moscow bureaucracy had not yet entirely broken with the revolutionary doctrines of Lenin and Trotsky, it invited some Negroes to Moscow to make a film which would depict lynching and the other features of Negro life in America. The company was selected and reached Moscow. American capitalism, however, realizes that, although it can deceive the people at home, it would be difficult for it to pose abroad as the friend of democracy if its treatment of Negroes were exposed in so popular a medium as a film. Washington was at that time engaged in negotiations with Moscow over recognition of the Soviet government, and made it quite clear that if the Russians made any such film, it would be regarded as a serious obstacle in the way of an understanding.

The Moscow bureaucracy reacted in characteristic fashion. It capitulated before the capitalists. It sought to deceive and browbeat the workers. The Negroes who had gone to Moscow were told that it was impossible for the Soviet production studios to find time and room to make the film. When some of the Negroes protested, several attempts were made to frame them as drunkards, disorderly persons, etc. in order to discredit in advance any protest that they might make when they returned home. In all this the Daily Worker, which now cannot contain its rage at Hollywood’s crimes, played its usual obedient and servile role as a tout for the Kremlin’s crimes.

Among the Negroes who went to Moscow to help in the making of the film was Langston Hughes, the Negro poet. Hughes is one of the most pertinacious fellow-travellers of the Stalinists. He is, or was, vice-president of their stooge organization, the American Writers Congress. He has represented the Stalinist point of view at international congresses in Europe. Some of his works are published by Stalinist publishing houses. When the Moscow bureaucracy tried to impose its lies on the Negroes who had gone to Moscow to make the Negro film, he accepted the “explanation” entirely and cooperated with the Moscow bureaucrats, to smash down those who refused to accept this transparent lie.

But the Kremlin’s policy changes, and with it changes everything, from the clothes the Stalinists wear to their attitude to Negro films. Not so long ago Hollywood wanted to produce a film on the Old South. Way Down South portrayed the old Southern slaveowners as fine and gallant gentlemen, and showed the slaves as being contented with their slavery. One of the writers of the script was no other than Langston Hughes. Of this the Stalinists, who must have known it, had nothing whatever to say.

Now the line of the Kremlin changes once more. Their reviewer, Howard Rushmore, wrote a favorable review which, in this opinion of the author of this column, was infinitely less iniquitous than the actual preparation of a pro-slavery script. But the Stalinists become consumed with virtuous rage, dismiss him, and are now carrying on their phony campaign. This deceives nobody who knows them.

In 1929 it was the policy of Moscow to carry on a vicious campaign against all capitalists and every section of the labor movement which was not Stalinist. That was their notorious “third period.” In accordance with this line, they were prepared to make the film exposing American capitalism. As soon, however, as the capitalists gave any indication that they opposed it, the Moscow bureaucrats, as usual, capitulated. In 1934, on the other hand, they began their new policy of support to the “democracies” against the fascist imperialists. During this campaign, behind all their noisy talk, they capitulated on every front to what they called the “democratic forces.” Roosevelt was their hero, Eleanor Roosevelt their heroine, and their chief care was to penetrate as far as possible into those elements of “democracy” which they thought might be useful in furthering the alliance between America and Russia. They shoved the Negro movement as far as possible into the Negro National Congress.

With the Hitler-Stalin pact this “fourth period” came to an end. Stalin now wishes them to build as much opposition as possible in the camp of the “democracies” in order to assist the victory of the Hitler-Stalin camp. Therefore they rediscover the revolutionary instincts of the Negro people; they begin a great drive in Harlem. And they tear their hair and gnash their teeth at the crimes of Gone With the Wind.

To conclude, the film is dangerous and must be exposed and boycotted. But infinitely more dangerous, and therefore to be exposed and boycotted to an infinitely greater degree, is this mischievous manipulation of Negro militancy in the interest of the Moscow bureaucrats.

Last updated on 17.7.2011