When the CIA Was the NEA | The Nation


When the CIA Was the NEA

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In June 1948 George Kennan, director of the State Department's policy planning staff, drafted National Security Directive NSC-10/2. It set up an Office of Policy Coordination that would direct covert government operations "so planned and executed that any U.S. government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons, and that if uncovered the U.S. government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them." A Psychological Warfare Workshop was set up within the OPC; Howard Hunt, later to continue his vocation as one of the Watergate plumbers, directed it. Among Hunt's assets was CIA agent Carleton Alsop, working undercover at Paramount Studios. Shortly after George Orwell died in 1950, Hunt sent Alsop to acquire the film rights to Animal Farm from Orwell's widow, Sonia. It was Hunt who chose Louis de Rochemont to produce the feature animation. (Given the clandestine CIA control, how appropriate that de Rochemont, under whom Hunt had worked on the March of Time newsreel documentaries, had already made a film about secret identity, Lost Boundaries, in which a black doctor's decision to pass as white is blamed on the hostility he encounters not in the white community but among blacks.)

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Michael P. Rogin
Michael P. Rogin, author of The Intellectuals and McCarthy, Ronald Reagan, The Movie (California) and other works, is...

For the CIA to finance and distribute Animal Farm, however, something had to be done about the ending. In Orwell's anti-Stalinist original, the pigs who overthrow the farmer ruling class end up mingling with their former oppressors. As pigs and farmers toast one another in the farm house, "the creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." The CIA solved this problem of the symbiotic relationship between capitalism and Communism by eliminating the farmers from the final scene. In the added-on CIA finale, when the barnyard animals attack the new ruling class (the sort of invitation to revolt that the agency would soon issue, and fail to support, in Hungary), capitalist exploiters are as invisible on the screen as was the CIA behind the camera.

Hollywood's Animal Farm is not only an instance of how, for the first two decades of the cold war, the CIA served as the American "Ministry of Culture"--to use Kennan's own approving Orwellian label. It is also a parable for the trajectory of the "Non-Communist Left," the agency's term for the group of anti-Stalinist intellectuals it singled out as its witting and unwitting secret agents for the cultural cold war. When left anti-Stalinists like Melvin Lasky, Irving Kristol, Leslie Fiedler, Dwight Macdonald, Arthur Koestler and Ignazio Silone opposed both the Soviet and US imperial camps in the late thirties or exposed the nature of the Soviet system during World War II, they were a beleaguered minority; their comrades were (as Orwell's Homage to Catalonia famously described) murdered in Spain. But as the hot war against Nazism metamorphosed into the cold war against Communism, and as they chose the side of the United States, they embraced a worldview and mode of operations organized around apocalyptic, embattled anti-Communism.

The Cultural Cold War sometimes gives way to the tendency to dismiss the anti-Stalinist left as in effect "premature anti-Communists," as if (like the "premature antifascists" stigmatized by the US state security apparatus during the thirties Popular Front and World War II) their early prescience should speak against them, as if they were bringing no big news either about the Soviet domestic terror or the role of international Communism--as if, to take one example from The Cultural Cold War, everyone acknowledged that the Rosenbergs were guilty, and the only issue was whether they should be executed. But the problem lay not in the left anti-Stalinists' early recognition of the character of the Soviet system but rather in their trading in of pariah status to act as the organic intellectuals of the national security state. Whereas only a tiny number (on the vanguard-party model) actually took orders or distributed money from the CIA, a lot more were fairly witting fellow travelers.

Domestic politics had become "boring," former-socialist-become-sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset noted in 1960 in the last chapter of his Political Man (quoting something a Swedish newspaper editor had told him), because "the fundamental political problems of the industrial revolution have been solved." "Ideology and passion may no longer be necessary to sustain the class struggle within stable and affluent democracies," Lipset went on, "but they are clearly needed in the international effort to develop free political and economic institutions in the rest of the world." Lipset was announcing not "the end of ideology" (title of his chapter and of Daniel Bell's 1960 book) but its transfer to the fight against Communism.

"Ideology and passion" required material support, however, and as The Cultural Cold War shows in telling detail, the CIA supplied it. Occupied Berlin, Melvin Lasky complained in 1947, was like a nineteenth-century frontier town--"Indians on the horizon, and you've simply got to have that rifle handy" or "your scalp is gone." But whereas a "frontier-town was full of Indian-fighters," Lasky complained, Berlin lacked them. Changing his metaphor from the gun to the Bible and imagining converting the primitives rather than killing them, he explained that the cold war battleground required a hard-hitting cultural journal to combat European anti-Americanism. In his words, "It would be foolish to expect to wean a primitive savage away from his conviction in mysterious jungle-herbs simply by the dissemination of modern scientific medical information." The result of Lasky's memo to military governor Gen. Lucius Clay was Der Monat, financed first through Marshall Plan "confidential funds" and then by the CIA. Two years later the intelligence agency set up the Congress for Cultural Freedom and assigned operative Michael Josselson to run it. With CIA financing, the CCF in turn sponsored Preuves, Encounter (Josselson called it "our greatest asset") and a series of journals around the world. Within the United States, CIA agent Robie Macauley edited the literary magazine Kenyon Review. Laundering its money through small CIA-created nonprofits, especially the Farfield Foundation, and cooperating with the giant Ford and Rockefeller outfits, the CIA sent black jazz artists abroad to put a false front on the state of race relations at home. To communicate the vibrancy of an American high culture inflected away from politically committed left-wing art, it sponsored European appearances of the Boston Symphony, festivals of modern music and exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism. Supplementing the motion-picture industry's own blacklist, the CIA also mimicked the House Un-American Activities Committee fantasy about the Hollywood left by working undercover to put the government message onscreen. Although The Cultural Cold War does not have an adequate footnote apparatus (citations typically lack page numbers) and sometimes suffers from a gossipy tone, honor to the author for the material she has gathered and the way she has put the story together.

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