Seeing Red: Stories of American Communists (1983)

“Don’t call me a former Communist, call me a former party member — because I’m still a communist, small c, in terms of wanting a cooperatively, communally controlled society where everybody has something to say about their life.”

Synopsis:
Former and current American Communist Party members speak about their involvement in this controversial political movement.

Genres:

Review:
This Oscar-nominated documentary offers a humanizing glimpse into the lives and convictions of diverse American Communists, both before and after HUAC — “created in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having Communist ties” — reached its zenith in the 1950s. As one interviewee explains, “I saw the Communist Party as a way of getting rid of an insane, erratic, irrational politic-economic system and bring into existence a rational, humane, humanistic society — socialism.” In addition to learning why American Communists felt so passionately about their cause, we hear their responses to Nikita Khrushchev’s condemnation of Stalin in a 1956 speech, which rattled most die-hard Communists to their core and was clearly responsible for the rapid decline in party membership. With socialism once again on the rise in America — and our collective memory notoriously short — this film remains an especially useful archival resource to consider.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Informative archival footage and interviews





Must See?
No, though it’s definitely worth a look for historical purposes. Your best bet for finding a copy is at your local public or university library.

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One Response to “Seeing Red: Stories of American Communists (1983)”

  1. First viewing. A once-must, as a valuable historical document.

    I was pleased indeed to see this worthy film – it’s a welcome light that clarifies important truths about American communists and what they stood for and believed in. Although it’s well-put-together as a documentary, what cements is is the group of people interviewed. It would be easy to point out those who are more eloquent than others in that group but that would be beside the point: they show themselves to be a uniquely dedicated cluster of smart, caring individuals; their fervor is inspiring and humbling.

    We tend to think of ideologies in black-and-white terms – a belief is *this* and only *this* (as witness the McCarthy hearings)…when that’s not necessarily the case. As delineated here, the American communists did not see communism as being at odds with an egalitarian society. But they paid the price for seeing the kind of wiggle room in communism that was undeniably absent from capitalism and fascism. (It’s sort of the same problem that arises with Christianity; although that has not always been the case, Christianity is now more or less synonymous with fundamentalism.)

    I’m glad to see focus given here to this somewhat-overlooked aspect of American history. A commendable and rewarding documentary.

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