I, too, have known a number of people whom reactionary types labeled as somehow being subversive. One was a Hollywood writer, who was one of The Ten. He had been, to use that wonderfully inventive phrase, "prematurely anti-fascinst". THat meant that he had gone to Spain with the Lincoln Brigade and risked his life fighting against the German supported Fascists.
Another one was Julian Beck, actually I would have to include Judith Malina, his wife, too. They ran a repertory company in New York, The Living Theatre. The plays they put on included some by Brecht. The Becks were very concerned about issues of social justice, just as the writer had been. THey were innocents, too. Julian once asked me in all seriousness why the Phoenix Repertory Company could get major grants from the Ford Foundation and The Living Theatre was ignored. He didn't see any connection between that and his very public stance on almost every issue relating to social justice.
There were classmates of mine at an Ivy League school who refused to be part of The Quiet Generation and were protesting issues relating to one man - one vote, the evils of segregation at a time when most of white America didn't realize that there might be a problem.
There was a lovely couple in New Hampshire that ran a kind of resort for Socialists. It was a wonderful place with lots of music, square dancing and most of all, people who seemed to me to unusally kind and considerate to each other. All they wanted was that the people of the world treat each other the same way.
Some of these people were literally driven out of the country, some were forced to appear in front of Congressional Committees and lived with a fear of what price their families might have to pay for their convictions.
Looking back, what I remember about all of them is how different they were. Some were intellectuals who had thought deeply about the issues involved in social justice. Others, though, had a very simplistic view - the US in the Constitution and its ammendments made promises to its citizens. These people took those promises seriously. Rather than being against the Consitution and working to subvert it, the irony was that they were in trouble because they believed in it. I suppose that there really were people who actually wanted to overthrow the US government but I never met any.
When this period started, I was too young to have any real perspective and when I found out that Herb Philbrick (who wrote "I led THree Lives", the book that was turned into a hit televisions series about his expereince penetrating the Communist organization) I was proud that our town had Philbrick' Fish Market, run by his uncle and aunt. When it was revealed that Claire Foster, a next door neighbor, had been a "secret agent" for the FBI, I was proud to know her. Only a few years later, I was wondering where in Nashua New Hampshire were there Communist cells advocating the forceful overthrow of the US government. The people she fingered were, and I choose these words carefully, the simple, sweet people who thought that there were injustices that ought to be faced.
As near as I can tell, none of the people I knew who were caught up in the repression of the 50s went seeking notoriety. It was thrust on them and they simply found that they cold not back away from their principles just because those principles were being willfully misunderstood in order to advance other agendas. What they got in return for their principles was bewilderment at the vehemence of the response and fear for the future of themselves and their families.
I hope that if and when I am ever called to face my own crisis of conscience, I will have learned something from the actions of people whose lives provide an example of how to act until reason returns.