Ayn Rand’s Testimony Before The House UnAmerican Affairs Committee

by | Feb 1, 1998 | Philosophy

Communist propaganda is anything which gives a good impression of communism as a way of life. Anything that sells people the idea that life in Russia is good and that people are free and happy would be Communist propaganda.

The following is a transcript of Ayn Rand’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee on October 20, 1947, as reported in the official Government Printing Office record on the “Hearings Regarding Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry.”

The Chairman: Raise your right hand, please, Miss Rand. Do you solemnly swear the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

Miss Rand: I do.

The Chairman: Sit down.

Mr. Stripling: Miss Rand, will you state your name, please, for the record?

Miss Rand: Ayn Rand, or Mrs. Frank O’Connor

Mr. Stripling: That is A-y-n?

Miss Rand: That is right.

Mr. Stripling: R-a-n-d?

Miss Rand: Yes.

Mr. Stripling: Is that your pen name?

Miss Rand: Yes.

Mr. Stripling: And what is your married name?

Miss Rand: Mrs. Frank O’Connor.

Mr. Stripling: Where were you born, Miss Rand?

Miss Rand: In St. Petersburg, Russia.

Mr. Stripling: When did you leave Russia?

Miss Rand: In 1926.

Mr. Stripling: How long have you been employed in Hollywood?

Miss Rand: I have been in pictures on and off since late in 1926, but specifically as a writer this time I have been in Hollywood since late 1943 and am now under contract as a writer.

Mr. Stripling: Have you written various novels?

Miss Rand: One second. May I have one moment to get this in order?

Mr. Stripling: Yes.

Miss Rand: Yes, I have written two novels. My first one was called We The Living, which was a story about Soviet Russia and was published in 1936. The second one was The Fountainhead, published in 1943.

Mr. Stripling: Was that a best seller — The Fountainhead?

Miss Rand: Yes, thanks to the American public.

Mr. Stripling: Do you know how many copies were sold?

Miss Rand: The last I heard was 360,000 copies. I think there have been some more since.

Mr. Stripling: You have been employed as a writer in Hollywood?

Miss Rand: Yes, I am under contract at present.

Mr. Stripling: Could you name some of the stories or scripts you have written for Hollywood?

Miss Rand: I have done the script of The Fountainhead, which has not been produced yet, for Warner Brothers, and two adaptations for Hal Wallis Productions, at Paramount, which were not my stories but on which I did the screen plays, which were Love Letters and You Came Along.

Mr. Stripling: Now, Miss Rand, you have heard the testimony of Mr. [Louis B.] Mayer?

Miss Rand: Yes.

Mr. Stripling: You have read the letter I read from Lowell Mellett?

Miss Rand: Yes.

Mr. Stripling: Which says that the picture Song Of Russia has no political implications?

Miss Rand: Yes.

Mr. Stripling: Did you at the request of Mr. Smith, the investigator for this committee, view the picture Song Of Russia?

Miss Rand: Yes.

Mr. Stripling: Within the past two weeks?

Miss Rand: Yes, on October 13, to be exact.

Mr. Stripling: In Hollywood?

Miss Rand: Yes.

Mr. Stripling: Would you give the committee a break-down of your summary of the picture relating to either propaganda or an untruthful account or distorted account of conditions in Russia?

Miss Rand: Yes. First of all I would like to define what we mean by propaganda. We have all been talking about it, but nobody —

Mr. Stripling: Could you talk into the microphone?

Miss Rand: Can you hear me now?

Nobody has stated just what they mean by propaganda. Now, I use the term to mean that Communist propaganda is anything which gives a good impression of communism as a way of life. Anything that sells people the idea that life in Russia is good and that people are free and happy would be Communist propaganda. Am I not correct. I mean, would that be a fair statement to make — that that would be Communist propaganda?

Now, here is what the picture Song Of Russia contains. It starts with an American conductor, played by Robert Taylor, giving a concert in America for Russian war relief. He starts playing the American national anthem and the national anthem dissolves into a Russian mob, with the sickle and hammer on a red flag very prominent above their heads. I am sorry, but that made me sick. That is something which I do not see how native Americans permit, and I am only a naturalized American. That was a terrible touch of propaganda. As a writer, I can tell you just exactly what it suggests to the people. It suggests literally and technically that it is quite all right for the American national anthem to dissolve into the Soviet. The term here is more than just technical. It really was symbolically intended, and it worked out that way. The anthem continues, played by a Soviet band. That is the beginning of the picture.

Now we go to the pleasant love story. Mr. Taylor is an American who came there apparently voluntarily to conduct concerts for the Soviets. He meets a little Russian girl from a village who comes to him and begs him to go to her village to direct concerts there. There are no GPU agents and nobody stops her. She just comes to Moscow and meets him. He falls for her and decides he will go, because he is falling in love. He asks her to show him Moscow She says she has never seen it. He says, “I will show it to you.”

They see it together. The picture then goes into a scene of Moscow, supposedly. I don’t know where the studio got its shots, but I have never seen anything like it in Russia. First you see Moscow buildings — big, prosperous-looking, clean buildings, with something like swans or sailboats in the foreground. Then you see a Moscow restaurant that just never existed there. In my time, when I was in Russia, there was only one such restaurant, which was nowhere as luxurious as that and no one could enter it except commissars and profiteers. Certainly a girl from a village, who in the first place would never have been allowed to come voluntarily, without permission, to Moscow, could not afford to enter it, even if she worked ten years. However, there is a Russian restaurant with a menu such as never existed in Russia at all and which I doubt even existed before the revolution. From this restaurant they go on to this tour of Moscow. The streets are clean and prosperous-looking. There a! re no food lines anywhere. You see shots of the marble subway — the famous Russian subway out of which they make such propaganda capital. There is a marble statue of Stalin thrown in. There is a park where you see happy little children in white blouses running around. I don’t know whose children they are, but they are really happy kiddies. They are not homeless children in rags, such as I have seen in Russia. Then you see an excursion boat, on which the Russian people are smiling, sitting around very cheerfully, dressed in some sort of satin blouses such as they only wear in Russian restaurants here.

Then they attend a luxurious dance. I don’t know where they got the idea of the clothes and the settings that they used at the ball and —

Mr. Stripling: Is that a ballroom scene?

Miss Rand: Yes, the ballroom — where they dance. It was an exaggeration even for this country. I have never seen anybody wearing such clothes and dancing to such exotic music when I was there. Of course, it didn’t say whose ballroom it is or how they get there. But there they are — free and dancing very happily.

Incidentally, I must say at this point that I understand from correspondents who have left Russia and been there later than I was and from people who escaped from there later than I did that the time I saw it, which was in 1926, was the best time since the Russian revolution. At that time conditions were a little better than they have become since. In my time we were a bunch of ragged, starved, dirty, miserable people who had only two thoughts in our mind. That was our complete terror — afraid to look at one another, afraid to say anything for fear of who is listening and would report us — and where to get the next meal. You have no idea what it means to live in a country where nobody has any concern except food, where all the conversation is about food because everybody is so hungry that that is all they can think about and that is all they can afford to do. They have no idea of politics. They have no idea of any pleasant romances or love — nothing but food and fear.

That is what I saw up to 1926. That is not what the picture shows.

Now, after this tour of Moscow, the hero — the American conductor — goes to the Soviet village. The Russian villages are something — so miserable and so filthy. They were even before the revolution. They weren’t much even then. What they have become now I am afraid to think. You have all read about the program for the collectivization of the farms in 1933, at which time the Soviet Government admits that three million peasants died of starvation. Other people claim there were seven and a half million, but three million is the figure admitted by the Soviet Government as the figure of people who died of starvation, planned by the government in order to drive people into collective farms. That is a recorded historical fact.
Now, here is the life in the Soviet village as presented in Song Of Russia. You see the happy peasants. You see they are meeting the hero at the station with bands, with beautiful blouses and shoes, such as they never wore anywhere. You see children with operetta costumes on them and with a brass band which they could never afford. You see the manicured starlets driving tractors and the happy women who come from work singing. You see a peasant at home with a close-up of food for which anyone there would have been murdered. If anybody had such food in Russia in that time he couldn’t remain alive, because he would have been torn apart by neighbors trying to get food. But here is a close-up of it and a line where Robert Taylor comments on the food and the peasant answers, “This is just a simple country table and the food we eat ourselves.”

Then the peasant proceeds to show Taylor how they live. He shows him his wonderful tractor. It is parked somewhere in his private garage. He shows him the grain in his bin, and Taylor says, “That is wonderful grain.” Now, it is never said that the peasant does not own this tractor or this grain because it is a collective farm. He couldn’t have it. It is not his. But the impression he gives to Americans, who wouldn’t know any differently, is that certainly it is this peasant’s private property, and that is how he lives, he has his own tractor and his own grain. Then it shows miles and miles of plowed fields.

The Chairman: We will have more order, please.

Miss Rand: Am I speaking too fast?

The Chairman: Go ahead.

Miss Rand: Then —

Mr. Stripling: Miss Rand, may I bring up one point there?

Miss Rand: Surely.

Mr. Stripling: I saw the picture. At this peasant’s village or home, was there a priest or several priests in evidence?

Miss Rand: Oh, yes, I am coming to that, too. The priest was from the beginning in the village scenes, having a position as sort of a constant companion and friend of the peasants, as if religion was a natural accepted part of that life. Well, now, as a matter of fact, the situation about religion in Russia in my time was, and I understand it still is, that for a Communist Party member to have anything to do with religion means expulsion from the party. He is not allowed to enter a church or take part in any religious ceremony. For a private citizen, that is a nonparty member, it was permitted, but it was so frowned upon that people had to keep it secret, if they went to church. If they wanted a church wedding they usually had it privately in their homes, with only a few friends present, in order not to let it be known at their place of employment because, even though it was not forbidden, the chances were that they would be thrown out of a job for being known as practicing any kind of religion.

Now, then, to continue with the story, Robert Taylor proposes to the heroine. She accepts him. They have a wedding, which, of course, is a church wedding. It takes place with all the religious pomp which they show. They have a banquet. They have dancers, in something like satin skirts and performing ballets such as you never could possibly see in any village and certainly not in Russia. Later they show a peasants’ meeting place, which is a kind of a marble palace with crystal chandeliers. Where they got it or who built it for them I would like to be told. Then later you see that the peasants all have radios. When the heroine plays as a soloist with Robert Taylor’s orchestra, after she marries him, you see a scene where all the peasants are listening on radios, and one of them says, “There are more than millions listening to the concert.”

I don’t know whether there are a hundred people in Russia, private individuals, who own radios. And I remember reading in the newspaper at the beginning of the war that every radio was seized by the Government and people were not allowed to own them. Such an idea that every farmer, a poor peasant, has a radio, is certainly preposterous. You also see that they have long-distance telephones. Later in the picture Taylor has to call his wife in the village by long-distance telephone. Where they got this long-distance phone, I don’t know. Now, here comes the crucial point of the picture. In the midst of this concert, when the heroine is playing, you see a scene on the border of the U.S.S.R. You have a very lovely modernistic sign saying “U.S.S.R.” I would just like to remind you that that is the border where probably thousands of people have died trying to escape out of this lovely paradise. It shows the U.S.S.R. sign, and there is a border guard standing. He is listening to the co! ncert. Then there is a scene inside kind of a guardhouse where the guards are listening to the same concert, the beautiful Tschaikowsky music, and they are playing chess. Suddenly there is a Nazi attack on them. The poor, sweet Russians were unprepared. Now, realize — and that was a great shock to me — that the border that was being shown was the border of Poland. That was the border of an occupied, destroyed, enslaved country which Hitler and Stalin destroyed together. That was the border that was being shown to us — just a happy place with people listening to music.

Also realize that when all this sweetness and light was going on in the first part of the picture, with all these happy, free people, there was not a GPU agent among them, with no food lines, no persecution — complete freedom and happiness, with everybody smiling. Incidentally, I have never seen so much smiling in my life, except on the murals of the world’s fair pavilion of the Soviets. If any one of you have seen it, you can appreciate it. It is one of the stock propaganda tricks of the Communists, to show these people smiling. That is all they can show. You have all this, plus the fact that an American conductor had accepted an invitation to come there and conduct a concert, and this took place in 1941 when Stalin was the ally of Hitler. That an American would accept an invitation to that country was shocking to me, with everything that was shown being proper and good and all those happy people going around dancing, when Stalin was an ally of Hitler.

Now, then, the heroine decides that she wants to stay in Russia. Taylor would like to take her out of the country, but she says no, her place is here, she has to fight the war. Here is the line, as nearly exact as I could mark it while watching the picture: “I have a great responsibility to my family, to my village, and to the way I have lived…What way had she lived? This is just a polite way of saying the Communist way of life. She goes on to say that she wants to stay in the country because otherwise, “How can I help to build a better and better life for my country.” What do you mean when you say better and better? That means she has already helped to build a good way. That is the Soviet Communist way. But now she wants to make it even better. All right.

Now, then, Taylor’s manager, who is played, I believe, by Benchley, an American, tells her that she should leave the country, but when she refuses and wants to stay, here is the line he uses: he tells her in an admiring friendly way that “You are a fool, but a lot of fools like you died on the village green at Lexington.”

Now, I submit that that is blasphemy, because the men at Lexington were not fighting just a foreign invader. They were fighting for freedom and what I mean — and I intend to be exact — is they were fighting for political freedom and individual freedom. They were fighting for the rights of man. To compare them to somebody, anybody fighting for a slave state, I think is dreadful.

Then, later the girl also says — I believe this was she or one of the other characters — that “the culture we have been building here will never die.” What culture? The culture of concentration camps.

At the end of the picture one of the Russians asks Taylor and the girl to go back to America, because they can help them there. How. Here is what he says, “You can go back to your country and tell them what you have seen and you will see the truth both in speech and in music.” Now, that is plainly saying that what you have seen is the truth about Russia. That is what is in the picture.

Now, here is what I cannot understand at all: if the excuse that has been given here is that we had to produce the picture in wartime, just how can it help the war effort. If it is to deceive the American people, if it were to present to the American people a better picture of Russia than it really is, then that sort of an attitude is nothing but the theory of the Nazi elite — that a choice group of intellectual or other leaders will tell the people lies for their own good. That I don’t think is the American way of giving people information. We do not have to deceive the people at any time, in war or peace.

If it was to please the Russians, I don’t see how you can please the Russians by telling them that we are fools. To what extent we have done it, you can see right now. You can see the results right now. If we present a picture like that as our version of what goes on in Russia, what will they think of it. We don’t win anybody’s friendship. We will only win their contempt, and as you know the Russians have been behaving like this.

My whole point about the picture is this: I fully believe Mr. Mayer when he says that he did not make a Communist picture. To do him justice, I can tell you I noticed, by watching the picture, where there was an effort to cut propaganda out. I believe he tried to cut propaganda out of the picture, but the terrible thing is the carelessness with ideas, not realizing that the mere presentation of that kind of happy existence in a country of slavery and horror is terrible because it is propaganda. You are telling people that it is all right to live in a totalitarian state.

Now, I would like to say that nothing on earth will justify slavery. In war or peace or at any time you cannot justify slavery. You cannot tell people that it is all right to live under it and that everybody there is happy.

If you doubt this, I will just ask you one question. Visualize a picture in your own mind as laid in Nazi Germany. If anybody laid a plot just based on a pleasant little romance in Germany and played Wagner music and said that people are just happy there, would you say that that was propaganda or not, when you know what life in Germany was and what kind of concentration camps they had there. You would not dare to put just a happy love story into Germany, and for every one of the same reasons you should not do it about Russia.

Mr. Stripling: That is all I have, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: Mr. Wood.

Mr. [John S.] Wood: I gather, then, from your analysis of this picture your personal criticism of it is that it overplayed the conditions that existed in Russia at the time the picture was made; is that correct?

Miss Rand: Did you say overplayed?

Mr. Wood: Yes.

Miss Rand: Well, the story portrayed the people —

Mr. Wood: It portrayed the people of Russia in a better economic and social position than they occupied?

Miss Rand: That is right.

Mr. Wood: And it would also leave the impression in the average mind that they were better able to resist the aggression of the German Army than they were in fact able to resist?

Miss Rand: Well, that was not in the picture. So far as the Russian war was concerned, not very much was shown about it.

Mr. Wood: Well, you recall, I presume — it is a matter of history — going back to the middle of the First World War when Russia was also our ally against the same enemy that we were fighting at this time and they were knocked out of the war. When the remnants of their forces turned against us, it prolonged the First World War a considerable time, didn’t it?

Miss Rand: I don’t believe so.

Mr. Wood: You don’t?

Miss Rand: No.

Mr. Wood: Do you think, then, that it was to our advantage or to our disadvantage to keep Russia in this war, at the time this picture was made?

Miss Rand: That has absolutely nothing to do with what we are discussing.

Mr. Wood: Well —

Miss Rand: But if you want me to answer, I can answer, but it will take me a long time to say what I think, as to whether we should or should not have had Russia on our side in the war. I can, but how much time will you give me?

Mr. Wood: Well, do you say that it would have prolonged the war, so far as we were concerned, if they had been knocked out of it at that time?

Miss Rand: I can’t answer that yes or no, unless you give me time for a long speech on it.

Mr. Wood: Well, there is a pretty strong probability that we wouldn’t have won it at all, isn’t there?

Miss Rand: I don’t know, because on the other hand I think we could have used the lend-lease supplies that we sent there to much better advantage ourselves.

Mr. Wood: Well, at that time —

Miss Rand: I don’t know. It is a question.

Mr. Wood: We were furnishing Russia with all the lend-lease equipment that our industry would stand, weren’t we?

Miss Rand: That is right.

Mr. Wood: And continued to do it?

Miss Rand: I am not sure it was at all wise. Now, if you want to discuss my military views — I am not an authority, but I will try.

Mr. Wood: What do you interpret, then, the picture as having been made for?

Miss Rand: I ask you: what relation could a lie about Russia have with the war effort. I would like to have somebody explain that to me, because I really don’t understand it, why a lie would help anybody or why it would keep Russia in or out of the war. How?

Mr. Wood: You don’t think it would have been of benefit to the American people to have kept them in?

Miss Rand: I don’t believe the American people should ever be told any lies, publicly or privately. I don’t believe that lies are practical. I think the international situation now rather supports me. I don’t think it was necessary to deceive the American people about the nature of Russia.
I could add this: if those who saw it say it was quite all right, and perhaps there are reasons why it was all right to be an ally of Russia, then why weren’t the American people told the real reasons and told that Russia is a dictatorship but there are reasons why we should cooperate with them to destroy Hitler and other dictators. All right, there may be some argument to that. Let us hear it. But of what help can it be to the war effort to tell people that we should associate with Russia and that she is not a dictatorship?

Mr. Wood: Let me see if I understand your position. I understand, from what you say, that because they were a dictatorship we shouldn’t have accepted their help in undertaking to win a war against another dictatorship.

Miss Rand: That is not what I said. I was not in a position to make that decision. If I were, I would tell you what I would do. That is not what we are discussing. We are discussing the fact that our country was an ally of Russia, and the question is: what should we tell the American people about it — the truth or a lie? If we had good reason, if that is what you believe, all right, then why not tell the truth? Say it is a dictatorship, but we want to be associated with it. Say it is worthwhile being associated with the devil, as Churchill said, in order to defeat another evil which is Hitler. There might be some good argument made for that. But why pretend that Russia was not what it was?

Mr. Wood: Well —

Miss Rand: What do you achieve by that?

Mr. Wood: Do you think it would have had as good an effect upon the morale of the American people to preach a doctrine to them that Russia was on the verge of collapse?

Miss Rand: I don’t believe that the morale of anybody can be built up by a lie. If there was nothing good that we could truthfully say about Russia, then it would have been better not to say anything at all.

Mr. Wood: Well —

Miss Rand: You don’t have to come out and denounce Russia during the war; no. You can keep quiet. There is no moral guilt in not saying something if you can’t say it, but there is in saying the opposite of what is true.

Mr. Wood: Thank you. That is all.

The Chairman: Mr. Vail.

Mr. [Richard B.] Vail: No questions.

The Chairman: Mr. McDowell.

Mr. [John] McDowell: You paint a very dismal picture of Russia. You made a great point about the number of children who were unhappy. Doesn’t anybody smile in Russia any more?

Miss Rand: Well, if you ask me literally, pretty much no.

Mr. McDowell: They don’t smile?

Miss Rand: Not quite that way; no. If they do, it is privately and accidentally. Certainly, it is not social. They don’t smile in approval of their system.

Mr. McDowell: Well, all they do is talk about food.

Miss Rand: That is right.

Mr. McDowell: That is a great change from the Russians I have always known, and I have known a lot of them. Don’t they do things at all like Americans. Don’t they walk across town to visit their mother-in-law or somebody?

Miss Rand: Look, it is very hard to explain. It is almost impossible to convey to a free people what it is like to live in a totalitarian dictatorship. I can tell you a lot of details. I can never completely convince you, because you are free. It is in a way good that you can’t even conceive of what it is like. Certainly they have friends and mothers-in-law. They try to live a human life, but you understand it is totally inhuman. Try to imagine what it is like if you are in constant terror from morning till night and at night you are waiting for the doorbell to ring, where you are afraid of anything and everybody, living in a country where human life is nothing, less than nothing, and you know it. You don’t know who or when is going to do what to you because you may have friends who spy on you, where there is no law and any rights of any kind.

Mr. McDowell: You came here in 1926, I believe you said. Did you escape from Russia?

Miss Rand: No.

Mr. McDowell: Did you have a passport?

Miss Rand: No. Strangely enough, they gave me a passport to come out here as a visitor.

Mr. McDowell: As a visitor?

Miss Rand: It was at a time when they relaxed their orders a little bit. Quite a few people got out. I had some relatives here and I was permitted to come here for a year. I never went back.

Mr. McDowell: I see.

The Chairman: Mr. Nixon.

Mr. Nixon: No questions.

Russian born American novelist Ayn Rand is author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and is originator of the philosophy of Objectivism. You can learn more about her life and philosophy at the website of the Ayn Rand Institute.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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