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Fourth International, Spring 1954


Art Sharon

The Opposition To McCarthyism


From Fourth International, Vol.15 No.2, Spring 1954, pp.39-43.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE menacing march of McCarthyism has aroused a debate reaching into every corner of the United Slates. Rarely has political passion been so aroused among so many as during the past five months.

In the April 27 Reporter magazine, Marya Mannes assesses the growing anti-McCarthy mass movement as expressing the feeling of millions who “haven’t the courage to stand up unless another stands up first. And so we wait outraged, indignant, and impotent, until the brave speak up.” This popular movement finds little reflection in the capitalist press, which treats the developments around McCarthy as it does some championship sporting event carrying high stakes.

However, the shading of thinking and feeling animating the wide sections of the population that Marya Mannes speaks about are indicated in the press of the labor, liberal and radical movements. A sampling from various periodicals will show how deeply opinion has been stirred by the drive of the fascist Senator for power.

In the following survey, I will leave aside such columnists as Walter Lippmann and the Alsop brothers, as well as such radio and TV commentators as Edward R. Murrow. Their liberal opinions, which are bought and sold, reflect primarily their backers’ judgments on meeting the market demands.

In the press of the official labor movement, the reaction to the fascist Senator has been slow, confused and contradictory. Nevertheless, an increasing realization has been growing in the labor movement as to what is at stake in the fight against McCarthyism. For example, the AFL News-Reporter, official weekly of the AFL, in a typical recent issue (March 19) devotes most of its editorial page to McCarthy. The cartoon depicts him as an ominous bird being shot at by many hunters, and the caption reads: “Open Season on Buzzards.” Accompanying the cartoon is an article reprinted from a Milwaukee newspaper, entitled Joe’s Record Speaks Sordid Volumes.

The East Tennessee Labor News is typical of one section of the labor press which carefully refrains from committing itself editorially on the subject of McCarthyism, but publishes at least one anti-McCarthy news item in every issue. The March 19 issue, for example, carries a front-page story quoting James L. McDevitt, AFL political affairs director, against McCarthyism.

Then there are the labor papers which, though they don’t shy away from speaking editorially about McCarthyism, take an editorial position that is something less than forthright. They cannot attack McCarthy without at the same time proclaiming their own devotion to the fight against “communism.” A good example is Midwest Labor World, official paper of Teamsters Union Local 688 (St. Louis), which ends its lead editorial March 1:

“The labor movement has taken its stand: Remove the conditions that breed Communism and you won’t have to fear Communism. (Emphasis in original.) It is the one large group in America that has gone all-out against Communism. We invite the McCarthy fakers to put that in their pipes and smoke it!”

In contrast, there is another section of the labor press which recognizes the deliberate hoax of the “communist menace.” For example. Textile Labor, newspaper of the CIO Textile Workers Union, concludes in its lead editorial March 20:

“In short, McCarthy has created a bugaboo which has no reality today. The republic is not in peril of subversion by communism. McCarthy’s cleaver, buried in our individual liberties and our national honor, is vastly more terrifying than a red dentist’s drill.”

John L. Lewis’ United Mine Workers Journal, in its March 15 lead editorial, entitled Eight Years of Hooliganism and the Juvenile Senator from Appleton, Wis., characterizes McCarthyism as a “Frankenstein monster,” and ends:

Actually, McCarthy now has tangled with just about everyone except the American people. So the people themselves will have to stop ‘buying’ McCarthyism. If they don’t they are going to wake up some morning with an awful headache.” (Emphasis in original.)

Deadly Parallel”

Justice, organ of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, finally drew the parallel that was becoming more obvious daily. The cover of its March 1 issue features a cartoon captioned “The Hindenburg Line” and showing Hitler fingering a tiny Hindenburg while McCarthy imitates the Nazi leader with a tiny timid Ike. This is followed by a short editorial headed, Is Sen. McCarthy Doing to Gen. Ike What Hitler Did to Gen. Hindenburg? The editorial points up the “deadly parallel in the affairs of our nation,” and compares McCarthy’s march to power with Hitler’s twenty years ago. This cartoon and the editorial were widely reprinted in the labor press across the nation.

On the other hand, the AFL Hat and Cap Workers Union paper, the Hat Worker, although agreeing March 15 “that there is some foundation for their fears” (those who see a Hitler in McCarthy), argues that the conditions that prevailed in Germany at that time do not exist here and that the only semblance between McCarthy and Hitler is their “bent for demagoguery.”

In contrast to this weak stand is the hard-hitting editorial opinion of Labor’s Daily, sponsored by the International Typographical Union. Maintaining a steady drum-fire on McCarthyite fascism over the past five months, Labor’s Daily has set a high mark for all labor papers. In a March 17 editorial addressed to the labor movement, they say:

McCarthyite boot

“Organized labor must face the unpleasant fact that it is, as an effective trade union and political force, marked for extermination by the GOP-Dixiecrat-Big Business Administration now in power. There should be no illusions on the part of labor concerning this point.”

The editorial analyzes the strategy of the enemies of labor:

“The gimmick is, first, to find some social and political pariahs and hold them up as treasonous and fit subjects for drawing and quartering. After all, or nearly all, nod in agreement, legislation is passed to facilitate the execution. Many of us who thoughtlessly nodded in agreement then discover, perhaps too late, that the legal swords are shaped for our throats.”

A March 19 editorial in Labor’s Daily calls attention to the financial support coming to McCarthy from the oil barons of Texas and concludes:

“Native reaction, which we have not hesitated to label American Fascism, is slipping upon the American scene, its path well greased by Texas oil. This is a matter of profound concern to organized labor and to all working people.”

Again, in the lead editorial of March 24:

“McCarthyism must be fought on principle, if it is to be beaten, not on grounds of political partisanship or expediency.”

In another editorial, March 23, headed Time of the Toad, Labor’s Daily issues a ringing call to the labor movement for action against McCarthyism:

“The inarticulate, almost leaderless mass of our people, who nevertheless fiercely hate the tightening shackles placed on our liberties, are, we aver, looking for leadership, looking for an avenue of protest. The labor movement is the logical source of that leadership; the labor movement is the logical avenue of protest.

“If we of labor fulfill our potentiality in this crisis – for we live in a time of crisis – if we rise to our responsibility and provide the leadership of a movement which will trounce the neofascist threat summarized under the title of mccarthyism; then we shall never again need fear the collapse of the rightfully elevated position of labor in our society.

“... Without our leadership, without a program, the anti-McCarthyite, anti-Wall Street forces will surely flounder and suffer defeat after defeat. Is that not thus far the record?

“With labor in the role of the dynamic leader of the people – and that is its proper role – we shall gain zest, fire, enthusiasm; qualities, unfortunately, which have thus far distinguished the McCarthyites rather than the opposition.”

With an allusion to Shakespeare’s famous passage, “Sweet are the uses of adversity,” the editorial ends:


“Ugly and venomous toads are indeed loose in our land. But a precious jewel of opportunity is provided to labor by their presence. Let us seize it!”

The editorials in Labor’s Daily are generally of high order, showing unusually high consciousness of the decisive role the labor movement must play in this critical turning-point in our national life.

Precious Space”

Let us turn now to what is generally known as the liberal press. The various liberal political magazines differ considerably in their reactions to McCarthyism. The position of many of them was expressed several months ago by the Progressive, nationally circulated liberal publication from McCarthy’s home state, which in its December issue spoke in a regretful and grudging tone of having to spend “precious space” to deal with McCarthy’s fakery.

However, the current issue (April) is a fat number devoted to McCarthy – A Documented Record” The editors now state:

“In publishing this special issue ... we are mindful of the fact that we shall be criticized by sincere and thoughtful Americans who share our repugnance for McCarthy. Their position, we suspect, will be based on their genuine conviction that we are aiding and abetting him by ‘giving him more publicity’ and ‘building him up by taking him so seriously.’

“We can respect and sympathize with this point of view because we held it once ourselves. We abandoned it, however, when the facts proved us wrong. It is a dangerous error ... to fail to regard the man and his ‘ism’ with deep seriousness. His power today comes in great measure from our failure to fight back earlier.”

The Nation Magazine

Well in the lead, however, among the anti-McCarthy liberal periodicals is the Nation. The tone and analyses of its articles and editorials come close to those of Labor’s Daily.

In its November 21, 1953, issue, shortly after the explosion of the White-Brownell-McCarthy affair, the Nation published a lead article by Professor H.H. Wilson, titled Crisis of Democracy. Written with deep feeling, this article reflected the apprehension and fear that has gripped millions throughout the nation. Wilson wrote:

“The ‘Communist conspiracy,’ a small brush fire in 1946-48, has become a raging conflagration. It may turn out to be the funeral pyre of the Democratic party ...

“American democracy has withstood public apathy, judicial supremacy, Congressional conniption, and weak unimaginative Presidents, but it cannot survive rule by informers, political police, and delinquents in government. Democracy is jettisoned when suspicion becomes the equivalent of indictment and accusation of conviction.”

The December 12, 1953, issue of the Nation was entirely devoted to civil liberties. The editors summarized the issue with a concluding editorial, The Present Danger: A Call for leadership. But this appeal for leadership is addressed to – the Democratic Party! Unlike Labor’s Daily, which seems to have a call for a Labor Party on the tip of its tongue, the Nation places its hopes in a stiffened Democratic Party. The editorial declares:

“If the Democratic party is to resist McCarthyism, then the labor movement must encourage it to act in this fashion. To this end, the unions must quickly step up the tempo and scale of their political-action programs ... If labor has enjoyed a degree of immunity from the witch hunt these last few years, it has been because its allies, the Democrats, were in power; the situation has now changed.”

“Reds, Reds, Reds”

The New Leader, long considered a liberal publication, has moved so far to the right that it now wars upon such anti-McCarthy liberals as the Nation. It slashes away, not at McCarthyism, but at the anti-McCarthyites.

Writing on the thirtieth anniversary of the New Leader (March 1 issue), editor William E. Bohn takes special pride in the fact that his magazine took up the fight against the “red menace” thirty years ago. In 1924, Bohn says, the New Leader saw that the country was “drifting toward a dangerous cataract but (we) were all so hypnotized that we could not hear the voices of those who saw the impending peril.”

To the suggestion that the New Leader’s job is pretty well done, Bohn answers:

“... Our job has hardly begun. The Congressmen are trying to make life miserable for a few Communists, ex-Communists or may-have-been Communists. The Pentagon is making the necessary preparations for a possible military clash with Communism. But that still leaves the biggest sector of the anti-totalitarian front uncovered.”

Bohn goes on to modestly acknowledge that this sector, the war of ideas, is being adequately covered by the New Leader crew.

In the January 11 issue Robert E. Fitch, dean and professor of Christian Ethics, Pacific School of Religion, asks, Are the Liberals Killing Liberalism? His answer, of course, is

“... Let us remember that a healthy democracy requires alternations in the centers of power and that these alterations in power call for recurrent cleansings. And in each instance, let us insist on the necessity and the justice of the purge, even as we regret and robustly resist the injustices that inevitably accompany it.”

And Will Herberg, who traveled from Stalin via Lovestone to the Old Testament and the New Leader, washes his hands (January 8) of what he calls the “dreary debate over ‘McCarthyism.’”

The uglier the witch hunt and the more menacing the growth of McCarthyism, the fiercer are the New Leader attacks upon the hapless liberals and anti-McCarthyites in general. A reader speaks his piece in the March 8 issue in a letter to the editor:

“Reds, Reds, Reds; for heaven’s sake, gentlemen, start fighting the native fascists in the Administration. It won’t be the Reds who will suppress the New Leader. Brownell, Nixon, Summerfield, Knowland, Jenner, Velde & Co. will do it.”

The Socialist Call, official organ of the Socialist Party, is somewhat more restrained. Aside from an occasional comment in Norman Thomas’ column and a note here and there, nothing appeared in their pages dealing with the rising tide of McCarthyism until the April issue. Then Aaron Levenstein, in an article titled How to Contain McCarthy, offered what is presumably the program, of the Socialist Party. The article contains no serious analysis of the threat posed by McCarthyism, and the five-point program amounts to nothing more than admonitions to the President, the Senate, the Democratic Party, the intellectuals and finally the “man in the street,” on what each should do to “contain” McCarthyism.

The DeLeonists

The DeLeonist Socialist Labor Party has a better record. It responded early this year to the new danger. The editorial in the New Year issue of its paper Weekly People (January 2) noted that “McCarthy emerges more and more as a would-be American Adolf Hitler.” The January 16 issue, dealing with the State of the Union message, noted the wild yells of approval that greeted the President’s reactionary proposals, and commented:

“... There was a note of ferocity in this response that certified the present ascendency of McCarthyism, not only among America’s political rulers, but also among the nation’s real rulers, the capitalist class.”

In several articles and editorials, the Weekly People has dwelt on the fascist character of the McCarthyite menace. But the sterility of the DeLeonist analysis is pointed up whenever it comes to the problem, of what to do now. Caricaturing the fatal ultimatistic program of the Communist Party before Hitler took power, the SLP recognizes only one program and one force to smash McCarthyism – and that is the SLP itself. The working class, it believes, must find its way to DeLeonism or face doom. Meanwhile, it has no practical suggestions to offer workers who want to fight McCarthyism but are not 100 percent convinced of the correctness of DeLeonism.

The Industrial Worker, publication of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), took up McCarthyism in a February article entitled, Growing Fascism in the US. Listing McCarthy’s rich backers, who are predominantly Texas oil millionaires, the article concludes:

“Just as in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the scum is rising to the top.”

The March 19 issue carries an interesting front-page article suggesting what to do When Joe McCarthy Comes to Town. After rejecting the idea of “ignoring” McCarthy or trying to buy immunity by “greeting him with flags waving” or “breaking up his meetings” (the latter, they feel, is too hazardous), the article proposes a work slow-down. Since no union would sponsor such an action, according to the Industrial Worker, it is up to the individual and to small groups to initiate the move. The problem of defending the “individual and small groups” that might be victimized for such initiative is not discussed by the strategist of the Industrial Worker.

“Fascism” as Epithet

A word should be said about the extensive press of Stalinism and circles friendly to Stalinism. The Stalinists are the principal current victims of McCarthyism and of the witch hunt out of which McCarthyism evolved. Their civil rights have been flagrantly violated. But what they have to say about the American form of fascism is largely worthless, if not worse.

In place of serious and objective analysis, the Stalinists long ago substituted epithets. The Stalinist press has been calling McCarthyism fascism for some time now. However, the Stalinists have consistently called their opponents – including the Trotskyists – fascists, no matter what their actual views mjght be. The present line of the Stalinists, who have turned toward the Democratic Party, is a defense of “Twenty Years of Reason” as against the McCarthyite charge of “Twenty Years of Treason.” (But the witch hunt was initiated by the Democrats in 1947, so that one-quarter of the “Twenty Years of Reason” includes the worst witch hunt the country has seen.)

The so-called “Twenty Years of Reason” began with the Stalinists calling Roosevelt a fascist. Their indisciiminate use of the term and their opportunist, political path preclude any serious contribution to an analysis of American fascism. Indeed, if the past record of the Stalinists is any indication, the fascist of today could easily become the peace lover and American patriot of tomorrow – should the Kremlin’s diplomatic needs require such a shift.

Where Are the “Stigmata”?

The Stalinist generosity in using the term fascist is fittingly matched by the blind refusal of the Stalinophobes to use the term, at all in relation to McCarthyism. The Shachtmanite paper, Labor Action, for example, speaking in its November 30 issue of the “domestic effects” of the White-Truman-Brownell explosion – which actually marked a decisive turning point in the development of McCarthyism – saw nothing but a “hopped-up witch hunt which is bound to follow in its wake.”

This profound position has been maintained up to the present – though apparently not without resistance from some in the ranks of Labor Action’s supporters. The April 12 issue carries an exchange between one of these readers and the editor. Writes William Stanley:

“I think Hal Draper’s recent characterization of McCarthyism as an independent political force is a step in the right direction ... The big question is, however, does McCarthyism represent a mere shift to the right within the democratic framework, or does it aim to smash that framework? (Emphasis in original.) Is McCarthy merely another reactionary politician or is he a fascist and the leader of an incipient fascist movement.

“... I believe it is necessary and correct to identify McCarthyism as incipient fascism even though it is not a carbon copy of Hitler’s or Mussolini’s parties.”

Answered editor Draper:

“... It is entirely misleading to interpret it (McCarthyism) in terms of ‘fascism.’ I would ask Stanley to remember that ‘fascism’ is only one form of totalitarian tendency; and if present-day McCarthyism bears virtually none of the specific stigmata of a fascist type of totalitarianization, it does not help much to use a ready-made label with misleading connotations.” (Emphasis in original.)

One cannot refrain from observing that the editor bears some of the “specific stigmata” of those socialists of ill fame who were able to make the necessary analysis of fascism only after they were in concentration camps.

Then there is the curious tabloid called Correspondence, put out by the group once known as “Johnsonites.” Purporting to speak for “the people” and to be written by “the people,” its editorial statement in the December 17 issue observes with polite restraint:

“This atmosphere of McCarthyism is a disgrace to the American people.”

Finally, we have the position taken by the American Socialist, publication of the American ideological followers of Pablo. In their January issue they published an insipid article on McCarthy, and promised to return to a full analysis at a later date.

An attempt was made in the following issue. An article entitled, The Secret of McCarthy’s Formula, dealt largely with the parallel between McCarthyism today and the reign of terror under the Alien and Sedition Laws at the end of the 18th century, concluding that those events are “instructive in understanding McCarthyism and how to fight it.”

After this account, the author offers his advice to the “New Dealers, liberals, labor leaders” – whom he describes as “the opposition to McCarthyism today.” They should “adopt a more sober and rational attitude in their thinking about the world revolution, about war and Russia, (otherwise) they will always be on the defensive.”

Leaving their readers with these thoughts to chew on for two months (not a word on McCarthyism in the March issue), the April American Socialist made up in excitement for its sobriety in February and its reticence in March. The lead article. McCarthy’s “Kampf” – A Warning Signal,” sounds the alarm that it is “bitter truth ... and not the excitement of the moment ...” that prompts these new thoughts on McCarthyism. And the first paragraph, of 11 short lines, hits the reader with “terrifying convulsion” ... “sinister progress” ... “crucial period of decision” ... “doomed to be ground under the tyrant’s heel” ... etc., etc. But frenzy is never a substitute for correct political analysis. The promise made in January remains unfulfilled. Carefully refraining from characterizing McCarthyism, as fascism, the editors offer no fundamental answer to the “terrifying convulsion” that is shaking American capitalist society. Not seeing fascism on the march in America, they see no problem of combatting fascism, and are therefore incapable of offering a program to meet the fascist danger. In politics, this is known as impotence.

Trotskyist Record

The treatment of McCarthyism by the Militant, weekly newspaper which reflects the views of the Trotskyist movement, began two full years ago, in the issue of April 10, 1950. At that time, Paul G. Stevens observed:

“... (McCarthyism) is made to order for the rise of a fascist movement that can quickly overtake traditional capitalist politics in the United States.”

The Militant followed the developing witch hunt carefully, consistently urging the labor movement to rally against it. When a qualitative turn occurred in the witch hunt last November, the Militant was the first radical paper to note it. Its December 7 issue printed a statement by the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party characterizing McCarthyism as having become the American form of fascism, and warning labor and its allies of the grave menace.

Every issue since then has carried extensive analyses of McCarthyism. The most important material has been reissued in pamphlet form and widely distributed in the labor movement. A careful scanning of the labor press shows the impact this analysis and campaign of the Militant have had in shaping and crystallizing sentiment in labor circles in the struggle to stop the fascist demagogue from Wisconsin.

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