G.F. Eckstein

New Recruits for Norman Thomas’ Campaign

(17 May 1948)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 20, 17 May 1948, p. 2.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On May 5 a group of parsons, union bureaucrats and traditional Social Democrats issued a call to the Socialist Party to draft Norman Thomas as its candidate for President. Among the names, however, astonishingly appeared two – James T. Farrell, the well-known novelist and Harold Isaacs, designated in the document as author of No Peace for Asia, both of them hitherto widely known as Marxists.

The document to which Farrell and Isaacs attached their signatures declared that the United States needs a President “who stands for peace,” “who opposes the ‘free enterprise’ slogans of Truman, Taft and Wallace,” “who will bring us democratic social ownership of America’s major industries to prevent a new depression.” Needed also is “a mass political party ... dedicated to a program like that of the British Labor Party.” To realize this urgent reed Farrell and Isaacs join in calling upon the Socialist Party to “nominate its most forceful spokesman, Norman Thomas, who has so ably championed the cause of the most downtrodden workers in America, and fought so devotedly for freedom and peace throughout the world ...”

Betrayal of Marxism

The statement, which calls for a program like, that of the traitorous British Labor Party, is by itself a betrayal of Marxism. What makes the signatures of Farrell and Isaacs appended to this document so unexpected is that no one has ever seen any declaration by them repudiating Marxism. What makes it nauseating is the contempt that Farrell and Isaacs show for the left-wing movement when they recommend Norman Thomas as a fighter against war.

They did not have to wait long to see Thomas once snore discredit himself. At the Socialist convention in Reading last weekend, Thomas, as presidential candidate, repeated the liberal rubbish of a democratic federal world government through the United Nations. How was this to be achieved? This alleged socialist proposed giving the United Nations power to deal with aggression through abolition of the veto.

Some misguided innocents proposed a pacifist program of civil disobedience to the war. This at least implied some sort of opposition. They were voted down. The Socialist Party convention asks the capitalists to abolish war and organize an international social order.

Such “socialism” is perfectly acceptable to the capitalists. It does them no harm and is of wonderful service in reconciling workers – who are becoming daily more hostile to capitalism and its wars – to the existing order.

The May 11 N.Y. Times gives Norman Thomas a special editorial, which ends as follows:

“It is good to have Mr. Thomas in the field. It is good to have a left-wing splinter that is actually in the American tradition so far as its methods go. We cannot wish Mr. Thomas success in his campaign, but we are not sorry that this sort of campaign is being made by this sort of man. It won’t do us any harm at all.”

This is precisely what the Marxists have said, and have been abused for saying, these 30 years about men like Thomas; and one of the most important tasks of the struggle against war and for socialism is the exposure and discrediting of these scoundrels. Thomas is no misguided, confused pacifist. He is a skillful exploiter of the socialist instincts of the workers for the benefit of American imperialism.

In the days of peace before 1939, and even before 1941, Thomas and the Socialist Party repeatedly proclaimed that they would never under any circumstances support a capitalist war. When war broke out in Europe, Thomas, a leading figure in the “Keep America Out of War Committee,” warned against the intervention of the United States, government and vowed that he, for one, would have no part of it. But once the war began, Norman Thomas did his share for the imperialists. “I said,” he wrote in the N.Y. Times of May 12, 1943, “as I have said many times before, that once in the war, it certainly had to be prosecuted until we reached a point where we could not suffer under an uneasy and oppressive truce dictated by the Nazi and Japanese war lords.”

First, steam up the people when there is no war, then when the war comes and the people look to you for leadership, warn them that you are against the war, but the war nevertheless must be won.

What better “anti-war” advocate could American imperialism need? Hence the publicity Thomas always gets in the press,” on the radio, everywhere. It isn’t only that, as The Times says, he doesn’t do any harm. The more the capitalists boost his “anti-war” program and his “socialism,” the easier it is to prevent the revolutionary socialists from getting a hearing. James T. Farrell and Harold Isaacs knew all this once.

In 1939 Farrell signed the Statement to American Writers and Artists published by the League for Cultural Freedom and Socialism. This statement denounced the growing reaction which accompanied the propaganda for a new war. It denounced Stalinism: “Shall we abandon the ideals of revolutionary socialism because one political group, while clinging to its name, has so miserably betrayed its principles? Shall we revert to a program of middle-class democracy because the Kremlin government, in obedience to its own interests – which are no longer the interests of the Soviet people or of the masses anywhere – directs us to do so? On the contrary, we reject all such demands,” etc. etc.

Farrell knew then what has today become so much plainer, that capitalist democracy offers nothing but increasing reaction and war:

“Democracy under industrial capitalism can offer no permanent haven to the intellectual worker and artist. In its instability it becomes the breeding ground of dictatorship ... In the revolutionary reconstruction of society lies the hope of the world ...”

The Real Fighters

What has Norman Thomas in common with all this? If he voiced such opinions loudly and clearly just once, he would be driven out of the imperialist press and radio and would be mentioned, if at all, only with abuse and curses. Farrell not only understood the Norman Thomas type of windbag, but also knew, from personal experience the dirty role these types played, and who were the real fighters against the war.

In 1943, 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party went to jail for their refusal to compromise on their revolutionary opposition to the war. At the farewell dinner which preceded their imprisonment, Farrell related his personal experience with fake anti-war fighters who betrayed the anti-war struggle and the revolutionary aspirations of the youth. He drew the line clearly between these and the real anti-war fighters of the SWP. Said Farrell in a speech printed in The Militant of Jan. 11, 1944:

“Felix Morrow spoke about the time when he was a young socialist and what had happened to those who had been in the Yipsels with him. Well, when Danny O’Neill was a boy in college – that is, when my generation was becoming educated – the whole preparation of our generation was a preparation to meet the next imperialist war. In those days we burned with a kind of fierce rebellion and politically unclear resentment against the sacrifices of the first imperialist war, and we realized that we had to do everything possible to fight the second imperialist war.

“Out of that generation the intellectuals have gone the same way as Felix Morrow’s Yipsel comrades, arid today those who are left and who have been fighting this war are very few in this country. Among them are the 18 defendants in the Minneapolis case. I consider it an honor that I have been asked to speak here tonight and publicly to say farewell to them as friends and comrades ...”

What has changed? Not American imperialism. It is more reactionary, more barbarous than ever. Not Stalinism. All its evil characteristics have increased. Not the Socialist Workers Party. It is only more determined than ever to counterpose revolutionary socialism to American imperialism and Stalinism. Not Norman Thomas. He is more dishonest than before, and more valuable to the capitalists. It is Farrell who has changed, slipped off his Marxist coat when nobody was looking and now appears in the “socialist” tatters of the American imperialist lackey, Thomas.

Harold Isaacs had an even closer connection with revolutionary Marxism. In addition to being the author of No Peace for Asia, he also wrote The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution. In the latter work, he made a Marxist analysis of the revolution in China and the need for a revolutionary party, a Trotskyist party, to lead the Chinese masses. Leon Trotsky did this book the honor of writing an introduction to it. Of Isaacs, Trotsky wrote, “The author of this book approaches the revolution as a revolutionist, and he sees no reason for concealing it.”

From Trotsky’s standpoint there could be no higher praise. On the other hand, Trotsky always held up Norman Thomas as the perfect American representative of the socialist hypocrites and scoundrels who under the flag of socialism perform tasks for the imperialist war-mongers among workers and the youth which the imperialists could never do in their own name. In Their Morals and Ours, Stalinism and Bolshevism, and many other writings, he exposed the fake morality of drawing room socialists like Thomas. Trotsky predicted with assurance that Thomas would support the Second World War.

All these years no one ever heard from Farrell or Isaacs any opposition to these appraisals of Thomas which were repeated over and oyer again in the SWP platform, its press and literature. Now today these two, Farrell in particular, who gained prestige among leftward moving workers, come foreword at a time when the war preparations and the destruction of civil liberties are reaching new heights, trying to blow some life into the “socialism” of a discredited windbag like Thomas.

Clear the Road for War

Why? They haven’t got the couragee, as yet, to come out openly in favor of the war of Truman, Vandenberg, Taft and Rankin. But they are determined not to support Farrell Dobbs, the presidential candidate of the genuine anti-war socialist party. Better to swallow Thomas than support Dobbs. Hence their signatures to this degrading document. They are not fooling themselves, because they know who Thomas is, but fooling workers and young people, and providing a cover, whereby behind the smokescreen of talk about international socialism by abolition of the veto at the UN, they can clear the road for support of the war. Not only are they betrayirig principles which they have advocated and never repudiated. They are deliberately plotting to win over the the youth and leftward moving workers, playing the same dirty role that Farrell denounced so clearly six years ago.

Farrell and Isaacs like all the renegades of today, bring to the fore their hatred of Stalinism and denounce its immorality. They excoriate the Stalinists for their immorality in supporting a proved servant of the capitalists like Wallace. In calling for support of Thomas, they show precisely the same type of political immorality, degrading their own past, using their prestige and reputation to deceive the rising generation, and deliberately, consciously and maliciously distracting attention from Farrell Dobbs and Grace Carlson, prospective candidates of the Socialist Workers Party, whom Farrell and Isaacs know are the only ones who will fight against the war to the bitter end. This is a method to support the war while talking about socialism. In the world of today, it would be difficult to find anything more immoral than that.

Last updated on 3 February 2022