From New International, Vol.5 No.2, pp.60, 63
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Trotskyist press has been its scrupulous avoidance of character assassination, personal vilification or libel in its disputes with serious political opponents. Unlike the Stalinist publications, The New International and the Socialist Appeal have, in the past, always attempted to conduct their polemics on the plane of intellectual decency. Unhappily, this is no longer true.
In your January issue, Professor James Burnham and Max Shachtman in their article Intellectuals in Retreat (to which I shall reply elsewhere) have been guilty of a disgraceful and libellous personal characterization to myself. In this article your authors declare: “We understand that Harrison’s ringing break with Marxism [sic!] in the New Leader followed negotiations for a well deserved appointment in the Federal Housing Administration.” The method of presentation employed in this gratuitous remark is obviously evasive and cowardly, typical of the sort of under-handed innuendo which frequently appears in the Daily Worker. Standing by itself it is doubtful if this statement is actionable. However, elsewhere in their article your authors continue on the same tack: “But then, it [my disassociation from the Trotskyist movement] had to be delivered openly if the unemployment crisis in the United States was to be solved, at least so far as Mr. Harrison is concerned.” No intelligent reader (and your readers are intelligent) in the light of these remarks and the general frame of reference to myself throughout the entire article can fail to arrive at the following conclusions. First, that because I was unemployed or threatened with unemployment I wrote the New Leader articles in the hope that as a result I would secure a position with the Federal Government; second, that the United States Housing Authority negotiated to bribe me as payment for these articles; third, that the opinions set forth in these articles do not represent my honest opinions and convictions and that consequently I am an author whose political and social opinions are for sale to the highest bidder and hence without value.
The remarks of your authors referred to above are deliberate and wilful lies, utterly without basis in fact and were inserted in their article for the apparent purpose of discrediting me with my readers. And because it is imperative to my reputation as a writer that these wilfully damaging remarks be corrected, I offer the following facts concerning my career in low-rent public housing.
1) For nearly five years I have participated in the low-rent housing movement in America in an official capacity. From the beginning of 1934 until the end of 1938 I was director of public relations for the New York City Housing Authority. I am the author of brochures on this subject which are considered as authoritative and are used as supplementary text material in many universities and colleges throughout the country. I am so well known in this field and my services as a writer and lecturer on the subject are so much in demand that my colleagues in housing (who, unfortunately, do not read The New International) would be vastly amused at the suggestion that I would be offered a housing position in payment for an attack on an obscure political party.
2) Messers Burnham and Shachtman for years have been aware of my official standing in housing. On more than one occasion Mr. Shachtman has called upon me for personal advice on the question. On several occasions during the past three years I have lectured on the subject at New York University, where Professor Burnham teaches. On the basis of this it is evident that both your authors were aware that I have long been engaged in this field and that, consequently, no political writing of any sort is required for me to secure a position in the professional field in which I specialize.
3) I was in no danger of unemployment at the time that the New Leader articles were written, as a matter of fact I had received an offer to go with the United States Housing Authority almost immediately after its inception in November 1937. As a matter of fact I served as a special consultant to it on more than one occasion during the summer of 1938. My work is well known and favorably received by the heads of the USHA. Employees of this agency are either Civil Service or chosen for their achievements in this highly technical and specialized field. The assertion that the United States Housing Authority would make a deal with one of its employees or future employees calling for an attack upon Trotskyism is not only libellous but absurd. The staff of the USHA includes persons of all political shadings and even includes two Trotskyists.
4) I resigned from the New York City Housing Authority on a question involving procedure. My acceptance of the USHA offer actually involved a loss in income of nearly $2,000 per year; this hardly can be construed as “payment” for services rendered.
Information regarding appointments and salaries of Government employees are public property and are available even to writers of The New International; if Burnham and Shachtman were interested in the truth the information above could easily have been verified. Instead, however, they preferred to publish a malicious and libellous statement. In view of the foregoing I have no other alternative but to make the following demands upon you. These demands, of course, are made without prejudice to future action on my part. They are as follows: (a) that this letter be published in full in the February, 1939, issue of The New International and that it be as prominently displayed as the offending article containing the statements referred to above, and, (b) that the editors publish a full and complete retraction, and, (c) that Professor Burnham and Mr. Shachtman, in the same issue publish a public apology. Unless this is done, and unless I receive a satisfactory reply to this letter from you within one week from today, I shall be compelled to take legal action.
Very truly yours,
Charles Yale Harrison,
Public Relations Counsel,
United States Housing Authority,
Washington, D. C.
We are glad to print your letter in accordance with our tradition of granting all the necessary space for reply to all opponents against whom we polemize and not in accordance with the rather more widely practiced tradition to which you appeal—that of calling the cops in the attempt to silence revolutionists.
We imagine that some of our readers may be interested in these selected details from your financial autobiography. More of them, we feel, would have wished to read your replies to the not unimportant historical and political questions raised in our article.
Like you, we regret your temporary wage-cut, but take cheer. Experience in these matters has shown that your present employers, like their prototypes everywhere, know how to reward renegades. We feel sure that your achievements in ballyhooing the phoney Roosevelt housing program in order to grease the ways for the war policy of the Fourth New Deal, will not go unnoticed.
You write that you are “the author of brochures on this subject [housing] which are considered as authoritative”. It is a pity that you did not provide our readers with a full bibliography. They would have been interested in a number of your previously-expressed opinions of the social role of housing programs under capitalism, especially of the New Deal program in this country.
You naturally believe that in your attack on revolutionary Marxism you would get further in a courtroom than in the columns of the labor press. We on our part prefer the latter but would not find ourselves at all dismayed at the need of inquiring into these matters further under juridical auspices.
Last updated: 15.3.2005