How Reagan and His Allies Defeated the Hollywood Studio Stalinists

Guidance for President Trump in the current insurrection.

The violent insurrection now raging nationwide does recall the Los Angeles riot of 1992, the Detroit riot of 1967, and the Watts riot of 1965. For deeper dynamics of the current conflict, turn back the clock to October 5, 1945.

By 5:00 a.m. that  day, 1500 members of  the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) had arrived at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California. The CSU forces flipped cars, formed lines, and attacked anyone attempting to get in the studio. As Kirk Douglas noted in The Ragman’s Son,  “Thousands of people fought in the middle of Barham Boulevard with knives, clubs, battery cables, brass knuckles, chains and samps.”  It looked like a strike, but it wasn’t.

This was a jurisdictional dispute between the Conference of Studio Unions, headed by Herb Sorrell, and the International Alliance (IA) headed by Roy Brewer. Behind the scenes it was a battle for control of Hollywood labor, on the back lots and talent guilds alike. The Communist Party dominated many studio unions, and backed the CSU to the hilt.

Even with reinforcements from Glendale, Sorrell’s forces outnumbered police 1500 to 122. When Burbank police chief Elmer Adams showed up, CSU thugs flipped his car. Officers watched helplessly as CSU goons dragged workers from cars and beat them. Three Burbank police officers, three firemen, and 89 Warner Brothers employees needed medical treatment. The CSU also firebombed the homes of IA members, and when a local judge issued a restraining order, Sorrell replied, “To hell with the law!”

Communist union boss Harry Bridges sent longshoremen from San Francisco and some days the CSU force swelled to 4,000, joined by Hollywood Communist Party bosses.  John Howard Lawson stood with pickets and Dalton Trumbo led a vicious smear campaign against Brewer. The CSU’s Hollywood Atom began to read like the People’s Daily World, with headlines such as: “Is Hitler Safe Within Warner’s Walls?” “Sheriff’s Brownshirts Lavish With Brutality,” and “Rampant Fascist Scabs Wield Deadly Chains.”

As an investigation by California assemblyman C. Don Field revealed, the CSU remained in total control of the area around Warner Brothers from October 5 until October 28. Sorrell extended the violence to every major studio and facilities such as the Technicolor lab. It was full-blown warfare, with Sorrell flying overhead in his airplane, barking orders through a bullhorn.

Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan initially sided with the CSU but when Brewer convinced him of Communist Party involvement, Reagan joined forces with his fellow New Deal Democrat. Brewer kept the studios going and Reagan stood up to the Communist Party surge in the so-called talent guilds, where stars like Katharine Hepburn supported the CSU in fiery speeches ghosted by Dalton Trumbo.

The studio Stalinists came to believe their own propaganda. When the revolution prevailed, they proclaimed, dissenters would be lined up and shot. The threats alienated actors, writers and directors, and Reagan was able to swing many into anti-Communist alliances.

Out on the street, the embattled AI workers, most of them FDR Democrats, were beginning to prevail. Most of the CSU workers were not Communists, and their desire to work came to outweigh any support for Sorrell. As the conflict stretched into 1946, the public grew weary of the violence. Once confident of victory, the CSU lost the war and the Communist Party failed to commandeer studio labor and gain control of the industry. More than 70 years later, key takeaways abound.

When thousands of people battle in the street, the cause is sure to go beyond what the aggressors proclaim. What is going on now has nothing to do with George Floyd or racial injustice. As in 1945, the broader public opposes the violence but celebrities, athletes and the establishment media support the violence. Unlike 1945, the rioters enjoy support from a previous president, whose own biographer, David Garrow, proclaimed him a “composite character” in Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama.

As he said in a virtual town hall Wednesday, what has happened over the last several weeks challenges “structural problems here in the United States.” The problems “are the result of a long history of slavery and Jim Crow and redlining and institutionalized racism that too often have been the plague, the original sin, of our society.” Therefore “we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable.” So “educate, activate, mobilize and act,” the former president said, “and I hope we are able to seize this moment.”

And so on, in classic style, with no condemnation of arson, looting, or the murder of police officers. For his part, the current president knows what the deal is.

For three years President Trump was target of an FBI-DOJ coup easily traced to his predecessor. The Russia and Ukraine hoaxes failed to remove Trump from office, and as he confronts the pandemic, rioters target the current occupant of the White House and anybody who supports him. The first composite character president, formerly known as Barry Soetoro, clearly wants his troops to seize much more than “this moment.”

As in 1945, the violent forces of the left believe their own propaganda and expect full victory.

Failure to mount the strongest response leaves two choices: bluff or fold. Both would lead to further destruction and death. If the people now under attack support deployment of the Insurrection Act it would be hard to blame them.  

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