History 118: Ayn Rand’s testimony before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (1947)

A telling moment in the reassessment of the United States’ relationship with the Soviet Union came in 1947 when the libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand testified against the Hollywood movie Song of Russia before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. A 1944 melodrama about a symphony conductor who visits the Soviet Union, falls in love with a Russian woman, and joins the anti-Nazi resistance, Rand denounced the film as a rose-colored distortion of life in the USSR.

“I will just ask you one question,” Rand told the Committeee. “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.”

But in cross testimony and questioning, Rand stumbled as she was asked whether expedience required Hollywood to present a sympathetic image of Russia in order to bolster public support for the United States’ alliance with Stalin.

Rep. 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?

Rand: Did you say overplayed?

Wood: Yes.

Rand: Well, the story portrayed the people —

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

Rand: That is right.

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?

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

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?24

Rand: I don’t believe so.

Wood: You don’t?

Rand: No.

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?

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

Wood: Well —

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?

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?

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

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

Rand: I don’t know, because on the other hand I think we could have used the lend-lease supplies25 that we sent there to much better advantage ourselves.

Wood: Well, at that time —

Rand: I don’t know. It is a question.

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

Rand: That is right.

Wood: And continued to do it?

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.

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

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?

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

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?

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.

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?

Wood: Well —

Rand: What do you achieve by that?

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?

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.

A fair use excerpt from noblesoul.com. Apologies for the idiotic advertisements that precede this trailer for Song of Russia. I couldn’t find it anywhere else.

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