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Dwight Macdonald

Reading from Left To Right

(July 1939)


From New International, Vol.5 No.7, July 1939, pp.221-223.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


Epilogue

The epilogue to the role played by the “democratic” powers in the Spanish tragedy has been pronounced by Alexander Wilbourne Weddell, a sixty-three-year old Virginia gentleman who recently arrived to take up his residence in Burgos. To the press of Generalissimo Franco he said:

“There existed, it is true, two waves of propaganda in my country until recently, but I hope the American people will understand the reality of this historic moment. The Spanish people must not doubt that in the United States there exists a deep admiration for the character of this great country. Americans understand the enormous difficulties that must be experienced by a nation that has brought to a victorious conclusion a war of the magnitude of the Spanish crusade.”

The Generalissimo’s journalists commented on these fine words with more than ordinary jubilation, for the speaker is the new ambassador to Burgos from the United States of America.
 

Frozen Surplus Value

If architecture in general is frozen music, the Soviet building at the New York World’s Fair might be called frozen surplus value. It is not pleasant, indeed, to think how much surplus value sweated out of the Russian masses this huge pile of multi-colored marble represents. The Soviet workers may grumble about scanty food and shoes that fall apart in the rain, they may complain – to themselves, that is – about the Stakhanovite speed-up system and the reintroduction of the “work-passport” of Czarist times, but they must admit the Kremlin spares no expense to glorify “their” state at capitalist expositions. In Paris two years ago, the Soviet pavilion was outshone in costly elegance only by that of Nazi Germany. A big feature of the exhibit there, and one which has been transported to the New York show, is a huge map of the workers’ fatherland done in gold and silver and lapus lazuli, with cities and other points of interest picked out in precious jewels. (The story is told of an elderly French peasant woman, in starched cap and wide peasant skirt, who halted before this example of proletarian art, examined it a moment and then walked away, muttering “Bah! Hypocrites!” and spitting indignantly.)

The Soviet building is unquestionably one of the major sensations at the New York fair. Built entirely of marble, it is the only permanent building in the international area, and will be taken apart stone by stone and transported back to Russia, for what purpose God only knows. The huge stainless steel statue of a young man bearing aloft a red star can be seen from almost any part of the fair grounds, and for a time threatened to undermine our system of government. Patriotic citizens, chiefly of the Roman Catholic persuasion, discovered that the red star was higher than any American flag in the whole place. Careful measurements, however, showed that the top of the parachute jump in the amusement area was just one foot higher than the star, and the stability of American institutions was restored when a retired Army officer, amid solemn ceremonies, climbed to the topmost pinnacle of the parachute jump and affixed thereto the stars and stripes. So now Old Glory waves a good twelve inches above the symbol of red revolution, and all is well.

The thing that impressed me the most about the Soviet building – aside from the ugliness of its liver-red and multi-colored marble trim and the brutal heaviness of its lines – was the collection of highly dubious statements which appeared, in all the permanence of bronze and graven stone, on every wall, inside and out.

“FOR THE USSR SOCIALISM IS SOMETHING ALREADY ACHIEVED AND WON. – STALIN.”

“THE USSR IS A SOCIALIST STATE OF WORKERS AND PEASANTS.”

“SOCIALISM AND DEMOCRACY ARE INVINCIBLE. – STALIN.”

“LABOR IN THE USSR IS A MATTER OF HONOR, A MATTER OF GLORY, A MATTER OF VALOR AND HEROISM.”

(I can agree partially with the last statement: labor in the USSR is certainly not a matter of such vulgar materialistic things as beefsteaks and warm clothes.) These inscriptions seemed to me to have a rather frantic air. They were so flat and final, so positive in their assertions. Might there possibly be a little self-reassurance here, a little whistling in the dark?

This game of inscriptions, furthermore, can be played at by others as well. In the building consecrated to the United States Steel Corporation, I read another series of doubtful assertions rendered in the boldest and most unequivocal of letters:

“THE US STEEL CORPORATION CONTRIBUTES TO NATIONAL WELFARE.”

“THE US STEEL CORPORATION PIONEERS TECHNICAL PROGRESS.”

“THE US STEEL CORPORATION PROMOTES INDUSTRIAL STABILITY.”

And in the Italian building I found Il Duce equally insistent.

“THE INTELLIGENT CAPITALISTS ARE NOT ONLY INTERESTED IN SALARIES BUT ALSO IN HOUSES, SCHOOLS, HOSPITALS AND SPORTING CAMPS FOR THEIR WORKERS. – MUSSOLINI.”

“PER UNA PIU ALTA GIUSTIZIA SOCIALE – M.”
 

Miscellany

I have been looking through Earl Browder’s latest literary effort, The 1940 Elections: How the People Can Win, in the hope that he would explain how “the people” can lose an election which is decided by the majority of their votes. So far I have found no explanation, but I have run across what is undoubtedly the Amalgam of the Month, namely: “Trotskyites, Lovenstoneites, spies, detectives, and agents-provocateur ...” Where would you put store detectives, comrade Browder?

* * *

The level of the attacks that are being made on the Federal Arts Projects is well expressed by the statement a certain Mr. Walton, formerly an official in the Federal Theatre in New York, made to a congressional committee the other day. “The present set-up,” said Mr. Walton, “is in my opinion nothing more or less than a fence to sow

the seeds of communism. Of course, every play does not carry that message. They are too clever for that. But you must bear in mind that the theatre for centuries has been used to sway public opinion. Voltaire once wrote a play that started the French revolution.” Mr. Walton’s history is as mixed as his metaphors. It was Beaumarchais, not Voltaire, whose Marriage of Figaro “started” the revolution.

* * *

Having worked out the horoscopes of William Green, John L. Lewis, Heywood Broun, Harry Bridges, William Z. Foster and Earl Browder, Horoscope states: “None of these leaders have horoscopes that would appear to warrant the Red Scare that is generally broadcast with the mention of their names. From the capitalistic point of view, the labor movement is ‘safe’ so long as it is in their hands.” Maybe there’s something to this astrology after all.

* * *

Mr. and Mrs. Albert H. Wiggin have given to the Greenwich (Conn.) Boys Club Association the funds to build a modern club house, with the general idea, according to Mr. Wiggin’s statement to the press of “building character for citizenship”. The last time Mr. Wiggin’s name got in the headlines was in connection with the several million dollars he had agreed to pay the stockholders of the Chase National Bank, who were suing him because of a number of rather peculiar transactions he put through during his term of office as president of that institution.

* * *

The Nazi drive for more children, whether begotten in or out of holy wedlock, seems to have born unexpected and unwelcome fruit. According to Time, for June 5:

“In the midst of spring fervor, Nazi health authorities publicized an unbelievable figure: 76% of all young men between 20 and 29, they said, proved, when examined for military purposes, jobs, or party membership, to be suffering from syphilis.”
 

Big Steel Swings Right

When the US Steel Corporation in March, 1937, suddenly and unexpectedly signed a contract with the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, the indignation of the rest of the industry was extreme. The barons of Little Steel sounded like so many Nation editors on the subject of the Munich Pact, another great “betrayal”. Myron Taylor, the then chairman of the Steel Corporation, was cast in the role of the traitorous Chamberlain. A few months later, Little Steel showed that some steel men have principles when it bloodily smashed the Little Steel Strike, throwing the advancing CIO movement back on its haunches – where it has remained ever since. Myron Taylor was succeeded by the energetic and dashing young E.R. Stettinius, Jr., who at once established close contacts with various young New Dealers, especially those on the Monopoly Committee. Last summer the Steel Corporation went to Munich once more, again enraging its competitors by a major appeasement gesture towards the New Deal. It announced the abandonment of the basing price system, which for some three decades had been under constant attack by consumer and governmental organizations.

In the introduction last fall to Guerin’s Fascism and Big Business, I pointed out that the Steel Corporation was temporarily co-operating with the New Deal for the same reason German heavy industry in the Twenties cooperated with the Weimar Republic: because it was in the midst of a vast rationalization process, for which it needed a period of peace. But I predicted that “the Steel Corporation will find itself before long with a magnificent, enormous and highly efficient productive mechanism – and no market for its goods. Nor it there any reason to expect its directors to act differently when this happens, than their German colleagues did.” The Corporation’s reorganization program seems now about complete, steel production for months has been fluctuating between 45% and 55% of capacity, the CIO is in retreat, and so the directors of the Corporation are cutting their bonds with the New Deal.

The first open indication was the appearance of Walter Tower, executive secretary of the American Iron & Steel Institute, before the Senate subcommittee which has been hearing proposals for amending the Wagner Act. There is nothing startling about Mr. Towers’ seven proposals. They were set to the same music as most business suggestions for “reforming” the Wagner Act. The news was that Mr. Towers’ proposals had been previously unanimously approved by the directors of the Iron & Steel Institute, and that among these directors were four officials of the Steel Corporation. So deeply had the Corporation’s. signing up with the SWOC cleft the industry that this was actually the first time since March, 1937, that the Institute had been able to make any general statement on labor policy.

The ranks of the steel industry are evidently closing. The corporation’s break on price policy has had such a disturbing effect on the complex and normally rigid steel price structure, and profits in the past year have dropped so alarmingly, that this concession to the New Deal seems also likely to be withdrawn. From the White House, too, have recently come some plain indications that the period of big business “appeasement” has ended. The Steel Corporation’s new policy is one of many signs of a new and major shift in the ever-changing relationships of the New Deal with the various sections of the bourgeoisie. Next month I intend to attempt an analysis of the current trend of these relationships.
 

Our Master Minds in Action

The new president of the American Iron & Steel Institute is Ernest T. Weir, guiding genius of National Steel Co. To commemorate his accession to the supreme leadership of the mighty steel industry, I reproduce below a portion of the testimony he gave on March 3, 1938 before the LaFollette Civil Liberties Committee. Before our excerpt begins, Mr. Weir has been complaining bitterly about what he terms an “anti-industry” movement that is gnawing at the wellsprings of our democracy. Senator Thomas of the LaFollette Committee is trying to find out what he meant, exactly:

SENATOR THOMAS: Where do you find this anti-industry movement in America?

MR. WEIR: Well, it is general, Senator.

SENATOR THOMAS: General?

MR. WEIR: Yes, you read about it in the newspapers, you hear it discussed over the radio.

SENATOR THOMAS: Name a newspaper that is against American industry.

MR. WEIR: I do not say they are against American industry. They may give some misrepresentation of facts without being against American industry basically.

SENATOR THOMAS: Illustrate ...

MR. WEIR: You are asking me in detail about a very broad subject. If you want me to submit –

SENATOR THOMAS (interposing): Is there any one in the State of Utah that wants to destroy Utah industry?

MR. WEIR: I don’t know; I cannot answer that. That is a broad question.

SENATOR THOMAS: Do you think the Governor would want to destroy Utah industry?

MR. WEIR: Anybody in Utah?

SENATOR THOMAS: Yes, the Governor of Utah.

MR. WEIR: I certainly would not think so.

SENATOR THOMAS: Do you think the Utah Legislature would want destroy Utah industry?

MR. WEIR: I certainly would not think so.

SENATOR THOMAS: Do you think there is a paper in the State of Utah that wants to destroy Utah?

MR. WEIR: I don’t know.

SENATOR THOMAS: You don’t know?

MR. WEIR: Of course not. I am not familiar with the State of Utah; I am not familiar with the publications. If there is a publication in the State of Utah such as the Daily Worker, just submitted, I would think very definitely that was their intention to destroy the standard of government in the State of Utah. That is my own opinion.

SENATOR THOMAS: The standard of government is quite different from industry, is it not?

MR. WEIR: I do not understand your question ... You asked me, as I understood it, if there was anybody in the State of Utah that wanted to destroy the government of Utah.

SENATOR THOMAS: No; to destroy industry in Utah. Do you think there is anybody in Utah that wants to destroy the government in Utah?

MR. WEIR: I would not think so; I don’t know. You know Utah is rather a good-sized state. I don’t know. There may be.

SENATOR THOMAS: You are not serious about that? You do not think that we actually, out there in Utah, have to carry on a campaign so that people won’t destroy our State?

MR. WEIR: Senator, I know nothing whatever about the State of Utah. What I do know something about is the state of industry, and the necessities of industry, the operations of industry. I think I know something about them. As to the State of Utah, I know nothing.

 


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