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A Mission in Fraud

Falsification by Hollywood Historians

(May 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 5, May 1943, pp. 134–136.
Reprinted as Mission to Moscow Is a Monstrous Fraud!, Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 21, 24 May 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Hollywood has been called a land of fantasy which turns out movies – not for the purpose of depicting life and people but to distort life and people, to produce fairy tales, exciting romances, horse operas, tales of heroes long dead – all with the single aim of making money.

This is called entertainment value and it has succeeded because, after years of conditioning, the movie public accepts it – in the absence of anything else. Art values are completely subsidiary in the cinema world – profit is the primary consideration.

Thus, Americans get a steady diet of movies about love in which the poor girl marries the rich man – all of this, however, only after a series of near-catastrophic adventures. Or else, we get the hero pictures. Or the cycle pictures about war, great men, minor historical figures. On rare occasions, amid this welter of make-believe and distortion, we get a good picture which has artistic and entertainment value, some historical truth and social importance. But when compared with the mass of undiluted drivel that is produced by the ignorant rulers of the movie companies, it is totally insignificant.

That is why Hollywood gave the world a distorted picture of America. People in Europe, South America and the Far East thought of the United States as a land where everyone was rich – there were no poor people. This country appeared to the peoples of other lands as one in which nobody worked, everyone lived a life of leisure in immense luxury. Or, this was a country ruled by gunmen; that Al Capone was the high potentate of the forty-eight states; that all rich were crochety old men with hearts of gold; that cowboys, Indians and rustlers ruled the West, shooting up saloons and seizing women and cattle – in a word, everything but the truth.

Falsifying a Bad Book

It took Warner Brothers, probably the most sickening of all the Hollywood companies, to reach a new low in filming the greatest lie in cinema history. For Mission to Moscow, issued as a movie version of ex-Ambassador Joseph Davies’ book by the same name, is a lie from its opening scene to the closing. It is not a faithful reproduction of a bad book; it is not a documentary film, which nominally depicts a phase of life, or history, or a specific event. It is a lie which does not correspond to the book from which the movie was made. The scenario has the touch of the GPU, reflected in the mind and beliefs of Erskine Caldwell, the Stalinist literary fellow-traveler. The movie is a political offering to Stalin and his regime and was made to meet the political needs growing out of the war alliance between the United States and Russia. It was made for the specific purpose of making more palatable and acceptable to the people of this country the murderous regime of the totalitarian Stalin.

Has the film any official status? With the State Department? The Office of War Information? Nobody knows. It is said that of all the pictures Warner Brothers has submitted to the OWI, Mission to Moscow was not among them. Why? Was it because some people in Washington might have objected? Was it because there are currents of thought in this country which would have made public the scandal which is this movie before it was exhibited? Was it because Warner Brothers and those interested in a wide performance of the picture preferred to let it be shown before a storm of protest might prevent its release or compel drastic revision of all its lies? It is difficult to say, because those persons of responsibility in Washington and those who should comment are strangely silent!

Warner Brothers went all-out in producing this tedious and boring picture. Mission to Moscow was released after one of the biggest advertising campaigns in movie history. The usual previews by critics did not take place. Everything was prepared as a surprise. The ordinary movie reviewers went hook, line and sinker for the movie. These unfortunate people, lacking economic, political or social training, historically uneducated, themselves divorced from the real world, examined the picture as they would any ordinary Hollywood production. It did not dawn upon them that here was a purely political production destined to cause enormous controversy. Their reviews were of no importance. They concerned themselves with the question of whether Walter Huston was the proper person to enact Davies, whether the film characters looked or talked like the living models. Whether the movie told the truth, whether it adhered to the real history which transpired during their recent lives – of this there is nothing to be found among the everyday movie “critics.”

It took the political writers, columnists and commentators to open up a barrage against Mission to Moscow that threatens to become a veritable offensive against the biggest lie turned out by Hollywood.

Pious Mr. Davies Introduces the Picture

Mission to Moscow is opened with a five-minute statement by Davies testifying to the truth of the picture. Without shame the ex-Ambassador makes reference to his origins, his saintly mother and his adherence to the principles of Christian morality. Thereafter begins the series of lies! The mass of them are presented elsewhere, as in Labor Action. Let us, however, outline some of the more important ones.

  1. Davies, in his book, stated that the principled reason for his being sent to Russia was to take up and see if he could not collect Russia’s war debts to the United States. The book makes the point that this ambassadorship to Russia was temporary, until a better place could be found, since Davies and his wife would have preferred the London post. In the movie, Davies is represented as being sent to Stalin’s country to find out and tell the truth about that country and to see what Stalin would do in the event of war.
  2. In the book, Davies reports that his first experience upon crossing the border into Russia was the extremely bad food, the general appearance of poverty and dreariness of the country under Stalin. In the movies, Davies is elaborately greeted with a sumptuous meal. This is followed with scenes of happiness, sunshine and a joyful people.
  3. In the book, Davies comments on the ever-present and terrifying OGPU, which makes life a constant nightmare for the people. In the movie, aside from a reference that the OGPU is spying everywhere, it is depicted in kindly and benevolent scenes as protectors rather than persecutors.
  4. In the book, Davies writes of his own perplexity at the Moscow Trials, how “unbelievable” they were. He is aghast at the execution of the officers and generals without trial. He is aghast at the execution of the Old Bolsheviks, to whom he refers as old “government leaders.” It is all brutal and without sense. The trials repel him. Stalin’s justice is highly questionable and the conduct of the self-confessed saboteurs is suspicious. In the book, Davies recites the numerous trials of the different groups of Old Bolsheviks. But in the movie, all the trials are telescoped into one. Tukhachevsky, who was never tried, is shown confessing in a non-existent trial and uttering words which were made by Old Bolshevik Muralov. The defendants are depicted in the rôle of Hollywood villains!
  5. Whereas Radek, Bucharin and the others were in jail during the ex-Ambassador’s stay in Russia, in the movie they are shown to have been out and about, plotting and planning sabotage and the destruction of Stalin’s state and industries. They are shown attending a diplomatic ball, where they hatched plots with the German, Italian and Japanese Ambassadors. That these Old Bolsheviks whom Stalin murdered were not even present at this diplomatic function can be very easily verified – but to the “truthful” ex-Ambassador and corporation lawyer upholding truth and Christian morality, any lie will do!

When No Mission Becomes a Mission

  1. In the movie, Davies depicts himself as engaged in a mission of organizing the “democratic” and “peace-loving” powers in a front against aggression and fascism. As a matter of fact, he engaged in no mission whatever, other than that explained in the first point above. In the movie, he is shown visiting Churchill on his return from Russia, explaining to the present British Prime Minister the need for a bloc with Russia against Germany. As a matter of fact, he saw Churchill while he was Ambassador to Belgium and it had nothing whaever to do with what the movie describes.
  2. While in the movie Russia is described as having been forced into a pact with Hitler because of the machinations of Britain and France, nothing is said or pictured of the fact that French and British military missions tried desperately for a period of months to get an alliance with Russia. Nor is the fact related that the Hitler-Stalin pact was already initialed while the French and British and Russian military staffs were negotiating. Nor is the fact related that the Russian representatives continued their negotiations even after the Hitler-Stalin pact was signed, because they did not know about it!
  3. The movie says nothing about the significance of the Hitler-Stalin pact, nor does it point out that this alliance gave Hitler the go-sign to fire the opening shots in this war.
  4. The movie is a complete distortion of the Finnish invasion by the Red Army. In the picture, Davies perpetuates the Stalinist lie, long after the event, that the invasion of Finland was for the express purpose of defending Russia against Germany. Yet at the time of the invasion, Stalin and his satellites claimed that the invasion was carried out in order to protect Russia against the threats of England, France and the United States! The picture creates the impression that the Administration was in accord with the invasion. But as a matter of fact, it was Roosevelt who called for a “moral embargo” against Russia and for aid to Finland. Robert E. Sherwood, one of Roosevelt’s closest advisers, wrote a play especially designed to win the sympathy of the American people for the Finns. The play denounced the invasion, as did the whole American press. But now, in the movie, and after the fact, in the hope that people’s memories will be short, Davies and his collaborators on the film have distorted the whole history of the event.
  5. The movie shows a scene from the League of Nations wherein Haile Selassie makes an appeal to all its members against the brutal invasion of Ethiopia by the fascist Italian armies. Litvinov is then depicted as calling upon all the nations to rally behind Ethiopia. But the movie says nothing about the fact that Russia itself violated the covenant of the League by sending oil and other supplies to Mussolini to aid him in his war against the defenseless people of the invaded country.
  6. The movie shows that upon Davies’ return to this country he engaged in a one-man campaign to win this country to its present policies, always championed by President Roosevelt. But the movie fails to show that precisely in the period when Davies was supposed to be making this veritable Superman campaign, the American Stalinists, pursuing the policies of their Moscow mentors, campaigned against the Allies, fought conscription, opposed the war budgets, and denounced England and the United States, not Hitlerite Germany, as war-mongers.
  7. The movie does not show Stalin and von Ribbentrop smiling at each other during the signing of their pact. It fails to quote Premier Molotov’s declaration after the pact that “fascism is a matter of personal taste.” A Lend-Lease Offering to Stalin

We have cited some of the more obvious lies of the picture, the most glaring distortions of historical truth. There are many more like them, some just as important and some of a minor character – for the picture is fiction, pure and simple.

What is the purpose of all this? Who is being served by a GPU version of history? Naturally, the war and the fact of an American alliance with Russia makes possible the production of this fraudulent cinema. But even the exigency of the war is not a complete explanation of this bare-faced misrepresentation, this falsification of history. For in addition to the American-Russian alliance, which is the root of the distortion, there is the added element that it gave the Stalinists in this country an opportunity to push through their own vicious anti-democratic and anti-socialist propaganda. The willingly gullible Joseph Davies made an admirable foil for the Stalinist cinematic frame-up.

Thus, Congress, for whom revolutionary socialists have not the slightest brief, is represented as composed of a bunch of boobs. The socialist movement and the working class in general would be committing a crime against themselves if they believed that the parliamentary representatives of American capitalism were all morons. This is not true and never was true. They are diabolically clever representatives and defenders of imperialist capitalism and they serve their class exceptionally well.

But in comparing the so-called efficiency of the totalitarian Stalinist regime, where dissension is cured by execution, with the terrible inefficiency of the American parliamentary system, the picture conveys the idea that what is needed here is a little bit of blood-letting à la Stalin. Thus, too, Roosevelt is presented in oligarchical glory, a god-like figure who is all-wise and all-knowing. In this manner, the totalitarian idea and the totalitarian practice are subtly inculcated in the minds of the American people.

Roosevelt, Stalin and Joe Davies, these were the men who were right from the very beginning; they foresaw everything; they planned everything right! Those who opposed them, those who oppose them now, whether they be other sections of the capitalist class, liberals or revolutionary socialists, are fascists or dupes of fascism!

It has been said that Mission to Moscow has the purpose of glorifying Roosevelt and his policies, to prove that he was right about everything. But the picture does more than that. It glorifies Stalin, his regime, his policies. Most of the picture is devoted to that single purpose. But it could not be done without violating the truth, distorting history and lying about every event of importance that has transpired in the last ten years.

It is necessary that the widest protests be lodged against this vile picture, before its lies and distortions seep into the minds of people, before the type of thinking that is embodied in the picture and the practices of totalitarian Stalinists, who are its chief exponents, become a serious factor in American life. For here the reverse side of the totalitarian coin is revealed – and its face is as ugly as the face of fascism.

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