Philip Coben

Liberal ‘Stalinophobia’ Weakened Fight
on Feinberg Law, Helping CP Line

(19 December 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 51, 19 December 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Some parts of the story behind the action of the New York Supreme Court in declaring the “anti-subversive” Feinberg Law unconstitutional underline a few points about how to fight Stalinism – and how not to fight it.

The Feinberg Law is the act passed by the New York state legislature which provided for the creation of a list of “subversive organizations,” membership in which would disqualify a teacher from working in the public school system. It likewise provided for periodical purges (to use the Russian term) or periodical “checkups” (to use the American euphemism) to make sure that the school system was pure and untainted. Its effect, obviously, would be to organize an ideological reign of terror among teachers, to straitjacket them into toeing the line and avoiding any possible imputation of subversive ideas. In fact, it had begun to have this effect before even being put into effect.

Faced with this clear and present danger to civil liberties, there were not a few liberals in the educational system who were opposed to it. As Judith Crist writes in the current issue of The Nation:

“Although there are at least three reliable liberals on New York City’s nine-man school board, only one, Charles J. Bensley, dared speak openly against the Feinberg Law as an ‘ill-conceived’ piece of legislation. He did this on September 15; in March, when the law was under consideration by the board, he had voted in approval. [“Reliable liberals” indeed, as anyone can see. – P.C.] The state commissioner of education and many members of the Board of Regents were known to be opposed to the proposed, bill from the start, but all were silent. The individual teacher knew, of course, that he could not with any safety speak out against a law that in the near future could be applied against him.”

None of these liberals who privately condemned it was willing to undertake the fight against the law. (Quite apart from the main point we want to make, we should refer at this point to the inability of some people, including self-styled liberals, to understand how Germans who were opposed to Nazism yet “tolerated” its existence so long – that is, did not revolt against it; in the case of our American “reliable liberals” and the Feinberg Law, there was not even the threat of a concentration camp involved.)

AFL Teachers Pull Out

One reason, Miss Crist (who is a member of the staff of the anti-subversive New York Herald Tribune) points out, is that the said liberals did not dare “ally” themselves with the Communist Party, which was the main butt of the Feinberg Law. The liberal logic was clear: the Feinberg Law is directed against the CP; the CP naturally opposes it; we liberals oppose it too; but opposition means alignment with the CP; this is unthinkable, because “Haven’t we liberals yet learned to stay away from united fronts with the Communists?”

One result of this twisted logic was that when a Democratic politician with some liberal principles (not a Stalinist), State Senator Fred G. Moritt of Brooklyn, attempted to organize a non-Stalinist committee to bring a taxpayers’ suit against the law, he ran into the other kind of “principled liberals” who would rather see civil liberties torn to tatters than taint themselves with the Stalinists.

Moritt’s plan was for the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish educators in his group to file an affidavit attesting to their non-Communist status. This concession to the prevailing political psychosis, repulsive as it would once have been to liberalism, was not enough for some in his entourage. The Catholic in the group refused Moritt’s invitation when he found that he would be allied with members of the American Labor Party. The legislative representative of the AFL Teachers Guild, Abraham Lefkowitz, backed out because the CIO Teachers Union (Stalinist-controlled) was participating. When Moritt also organized a committee of 55 prominent clergymen, lawyers and writers, Mrs. Rebecca Simonson of the Teachers Guild resigned from the committee because “there are on the committee those who have not proved themselves to be true defenders of democracy.”

Fortunately, this attitude was taken only by some. Dr. Bryn Hovde of the New School for Social Research, Richard S. Childs of the Citizens Union, the Rev. John Haynes Holmes and Arthur Garfield Hays and others remained to press the suit.

When Justice Schirick of the New York Supreme Court handed down his decision, he was passing jointly on the Moritt-organized taxpayers’ suit and on the petition of the Communist Party, both of which were before him. If the AFL teachers and their co-thinkers had had their way, the Communist Party would have been alone in pressing the unconstitutionality of the law.

Stalinophobia and Suicide

There are few enough things today which redound to the credit of the CP, or which the CP can even use to refurbish its credit, but its claim to being the only proponent of civil liberties is certainly the card on which it counts most. This fraudulent claim by the outfit which acts as the puppet of the totalitarian despotism in the Kremlin is given currency, not by any merits of its own but precisely by the cowardice and stupidity of so many liberals in handing them the issue on a silver platter.

Few things highlight this shameful state of affairs better than the fight on the Feinberg Law, since the Moritt group implied no united front with the Communist Party. If the presence of Stalinists or Stalinist sympathizers in any otherwise laudable enterprise is to be considered a “united front with the Communist Party,” if every such enterprise is to be thrown into the same bucket with the transparent and hypocritical front-for-this-and-that organized by the CP, the preservation of democratic rights in this country will simply be sacrificed to the cold-war hysteria – which sacrifice is in fact going on apace – to the greater glory of Stalin and the further deterioration of what is left of American liberalism.

What is evident here is something which can accurately be termed pure and simple Stalinophobia: that is, the sacrifice of every other consideration for the sake of a sterilized anti-Stalinism. Not the least thing wrong with this is that it is completely and utterly incapable of fighting Stalinism – it can only aid it.

Part of the fight of Independent Socialists for consistent democracy is the realization that the presence of the Stalinists in a struggle for civil liberties is no reason for staying out of that struggle; on the contrary, it is an added reason for taking that struggle AWAY from the Stalinists, who wish only to use it for the purposes of their own totalitarian demagogy.

Last updated on 11 December 2022