From Depressionist to Stalinist

During its annual “31 Days of Oscar” this month, Turner Classic Movies showed “The Grapes of Wrath,” from 1940. The film won Academy Awards for best director, John Ford, and best-supporting actress, Jane Darwell. Henry Fonda got a nomination for best actor and Nunnally Johnson for his screenplay, based on the novel by John Steinbeck. 

In this tale, the Joad family loses their Oklahoma farm to the Depression and Dust Bowl, and as they head to California, tragedy and trouble assail them. When the film hit screens in America, the scene in Europe was also troubled. 

Stalin and Hitler were allies under the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939. The next month Stalin and Hitler jointly invaded Poland, effectively starting World War II. Stalin went on to invade Finland and during the pact Hitler conquered Norway, Denmark, Belgium, and France, among other nations. 

In the United States during the pact, the Communist Party, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union, collaborated with pro-Nazi groups such as the German American Bund. When Britain stood alone against the Nazi onslaught, the CPUSA worked to keep the United States out of the conflict. Despite the undeniable drama, films about life under the Nazi-Soviet Pact are hard to find. 

After World War II, Stalin sought to score propaganda points against America by screening “The Grapes of Wrath.” Stalin thought the film, retitled “The Road to Wrath,” would stoke anti-American sentiment, and make the USSR look good by comparison. Soviet audiences didn’t see it that way. 

In America, even the poorest people could afford automobiles, like the Joads did in their 1926 Hudson Super Six sedan, and drive wherever they wanted. That was in stark contrast to Stalin’s USSR, where freedom was severely restricted and owning an automobile was a dream. Stalin quickly yanked the film, which challenged a popular leftist narrative of the 1930s. 

The Depression, the narrative had it, proved the failure of American capitalism, which was said to be a relic of the oppressive past. On the other hand, the Soviet Union, with its planned economy and expert class in charge, represented the wave of the future. That narrative was as contrary to reality as any Hollywood fantasy.  

In 1932, Stalin planned a famine in Ukraine, covered up by Walter Duranty of the New York Times. The famine succeeded in killing millions of Ukrainians, as Robert Conquest showed in Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine. The planned economy, likewise, created only shortages, poverty, and misery. 

As former communist Louis Fischer observed in The God That Failed, “The Soviet dictatorship has been barren of groceries because it has been barren of liberties.” The Soviet state, “doomed by theory to wither away, had expanded into a cruel, overgrown Frankenstein.” 

During the 1930s, Stalin held show trials for the old Bolsheviks and his “Red Terror” purges claimed millions of victims. Under Stalin, the primary qualification for a general was not military expertise but loyalty to Stalin. That is why the outgunned and outnumbered Finns were able to hold off the initial Soviet offensive. 

All told, despite the Depression, conditions in the USSR during the 1930s were much worse than in the United States. Jump ahead to 2022, however, and it is conditions in America that are decidedly more Stalinist. 

The court proceedings against the January 6 defendants, held without bail, have all the makings of a show trial. The FBI and Justice Department target those less than worshipful of the Biden regime as “domestic terrorists,” a legacy of the composite character president David Garrow described in Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama.

Under Biden, Americans have seen shortages in basic goods. As Dan Gelernter notes, surging gas prices act as a check on travel. So do vaccine mandates and other COVID restrictions under white coat supremacist Anthony Fauci, Joe Biden’s very own Trofim Lysenko

The U.S. military is now geared to fight “climate change,” and purges those who reject woke propaganda, including outstanding officers such as Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier of the Space Force, not for any misconduct but something he wrote.

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, General Mark Milley, who regards Trump supporters as “brownshirts,” is on record that he would tip off Communist China in the event of an American attack. Joe Biden thinks the Chinese are “not bad folks” and not even competition for the United States. 

Biden is the only man to control America’s nuclear launch codes yet has trouble with America’s area codes, not to mention his own location. As Conrad Black explains, Biden is at best a waxworks effigy of a president. 

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is putting his nuclear forces on full alert, as Democrats call for further reductions on the U.S. side. If these realities have Americans wondering what they should do, here are a couple of things they can try. 

Flip off Fauci and plead the Fifth Dimension. Go where you want to go, and do what you want to do. Live every day as though it were your last. One day you will be right. 

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: Henry Guttmann Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images