Sunday, June 28, 2020

Complicit Support for Stalin Showed Media's Lack of Integrity: Mr. Jones Tells the Story

Over the years I've had a number of writers influence me in significant ways. Upon discovering a writer I resonated with I would dig through their works the way a miner follows a gold vein through a mountain, reading everything I could get my hands on. Hemingway, C.S. Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, Graham Greene are a few such writers whose works I collected.

Another was Andre Gide (1869-1951), the 1947 Nobel Prize winner who was at the center of the French literary scene for decades. An author of more than 80 books, he exemplified beautiful writing, integrity and original thinking.

At some point in the mid-nineties I read The Journals of Andre Gide, all four volumes, from which I learned much about the writing life and have frequently shared insightful quotes. One incident especially stuck with me, from his 1936-37 journal notes.

While the Great Depression rocked America, economic trauma was also eroding European confidence about the future. As Marxist/socialist idealism swirled through intellectual circles, the notion emerged that over there, in the Soviet Union, a Golden Age was dawning. The workers paradise was being praised and the promise of a brighter future.

Writers were being invited to come see with their own eyes what was taking place so they could tell the story of what was happening. One of these was Andre Gide. He went expecting to see something promising, or at least evidence that something promising was happening. Instead what he saw and learned resulted in a book that discredited what many other writers were saying. His 1936 book of essays began with "delightful approval" but ended up a denunciation.

I'd never read that book, but saw clearly in his journal entries for 1936 that things were not what they purported to be and he could not, with good conscience, parrot what others were saying. His September 3 journal entry begins, "A tremendous, a dreadful confusion." Then he describes a conversation with another who spoke of his "disappointment" with the U.S.S.R.  Gide responds that the word disappointment is not really accurate, "but I do not know what to suggest in its place."

Because he was expected to come away from his U.S.S.R experience with a book that praised Stalin's achievements, he writes in a later journal entry that he must write an introduction that "warns the reader at the outset." It took courage to publish this book so out of alignment with what his peers were saying.

The book he published was titled Return from the U.S.S.R. Here are excerpts from a review on Amazon that offer a snapshot of what Gide saw.

Publicity still from Mr. Jones
The political situation André Gide noticed that now that the revolution had triumphed, those who kept the revolutionary ferment became an embarrassment and were hated by the powerful; worse, they were simply swept from the earth. What the Politburo demanded, was a full endorsement of all that happened in the USSR. 

Attitudes
André Gide saw the inertia of the masses, the complete depersonalization of the individual.


Education
Critical thinking was forbidden and soviet citizens remained in an extraordinary ignorance of what happened in foreign countries.


The Social Situation
André Gide saw the emergence of a new aristocracy ... of conformists. Joining the Party was the first and indispensable step for a successful career.


Art
In the USSR, an artist had to follow `the line'. Art had to be popular; otherwise it was branded as 'formalism'. But André Gide correctly stated that without liberty art loses all its meaning and value.


André Gide expected to find in the USSR at least the beginnings of an anti-capitalist State. But, his hopes were bitterly dashed and he had the courage to publish his devastating verdict. He should be an example for all commentators and writers today, who should speak out and tear the curtain of the virtual world created by the media.

* * * *

All of the above came to mind when I read about a new film called Mr. Jones that has been released on Amazon Prime. I read about it in a review titled The Media's Role in Concealing Stalin's Evils Exposed in Mr. Jones.

The setting is Moscow 1932. The review begins (T)wo reporters are in a venomous argument. One has just admitted to filing false stories attributing miraculous economic achievements to Joseph Stalin while ignoring the fact that he's systematically starving peasants by the millions. Hitler, she declares, is on the march in Germany and, soon, the rest of the world, and without Stalin's help, he'll never be stopped.

"You sound like you work for Stalin!" the other reporter declares in horror.

"I don't work for Stalin," the first reporter haughtily insists. "I believe in a movement that's bigger than any one person."

The convergence of all these things is somewhat striking. The movie that had circulated through European film festivals in 2019 finally came to theaters in February and now to the public right in the middle of a new historical zeitgeist involving clashing cultures and competing worldviews. Notions of right and wrong are being turned on their heads.

A second article from Reason this week highlights a new attitude being proposed by some journalists. The article is titled Journalists Abandoning 'Objectivity' for 'Moral Clarity' Really Just Want To Call People Immoral. There are journalists who wish to abandoned the notion of objectivity. My response is two-fold. First, it's long been apparent that news is not always objective. Second, isn't this why Opinion pages exist so that people can express opinions on whatever is happening?

Maybe the solution to the latter problem would be to make larger opinion pages. As for the former issue, every fiction writer knows that if you want to create empathy between a reader and a character in a story, you hurt him or her. It's a normal human response. So it is that when covering riots, by focusing on rioters being hit, you create empathy for these "victims" of brutality. Why do we never see all the bricks and bottles that have been smashing into the faces and heads of police, sending them to hospitals around the country?

The coverage this past month has not been objective. Neither was the journalistic coverage of Stalin's atrocities.

Related Links
The Death of Stalin
The Media's Role in Concealing Stalin's Evils Exposed in Mr. Jones
Carol Veldman Rudie Sheds Light on Soviet Era Art in Lecture at the Tweed
Local Art Seen: Tweed Spotlights the Art of Russia
Karelia: A Finnish-American Couple In Stalin's Russia, 1934-1941

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