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Labor Action, 13 1949

 

Stanley Grey

Two Americans in Paris Raise the Flag

Farrell: From Studs Lonigan to Horatio Alger

 

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 24, 13 June 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

 

The speeches by James T. Farrell and Sidney Hook discussed in this article were delivered at the so-called “International Day of Resistance to War and Dictatorship” sponsored by the French RDR (Revolutionary Democratic Rally) in Paris. The complete text of these speeches has been received by Labor Action, as mimeographed for press release by the sponsors of the conference. Farrell’s speech, though delivered in English, is mimeographed In French; quotations are translated by the author.

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The “American Left” should be interested in the speeches made by James T. Farrell and Sidney Hook in Paris on April 30, in view of the fact that these two deep thinkers were speaking in its name. The speeches constitute texts of American chauvinism and it would be plain ingratitude to permit them to pass without notice.

A certain amount of special interest attaches to Farrell’s speech in view of the novelist’s precipitous decline in political thinking, a decline which has been so rapid that it almost approaches in velocity one of the quick-change flipflops of the Stalinists themselves. At Paris, sad to behold, Farrell delivered a talk such as would have been surprising if heard from a right-wing ADA’er.

Speaking before a left-wing audience, almost entirely socialist in its composition, he did not even throw them the sop of mentioning socialism explicitly or implicitly, broadly or narrowly. His speech was little more than a lusty paean in praise of American democracy and lacked only the lyrics of God Bless America to render it complete.

While the publication of his entire text would be necessary to prove that the above description is somewhat restrained, it must be said that the effect of the speech is produced as much by its extreme naiveté as by its positive content. Its enthusiasm for American democracy is that of a recent convert.

Professor Hook, on the other hand, no recent convert and too much the scientist in terminology to fling Absolutes about recklessly, arrives at approximately the same conclusions as Farrell by a more sophisticated path, one properly strewn with references to objectivity, the rules of evidence and bits of critical appraisal. Both Farrell and Hook, plugged in Paris as representatives of the “American Left” (whatever that is exactly), were indeed truly representative of that segment of the liberals and labor leaders who see the present world struggle for power as a battle between the Forces of Darkness and the Forces of Light.

The first section of Farrell’s speech takes off on the theme of Horatio Alger (we quote in order to be believed):

“I come from one of the freest countries in the world. I spent my whole life there under conditions of liberty which were enough to permit me to get an education and to develop my potentialities. I have always been able to read all the books I wanted to. I have always been able to express all my thoughts and to defend my convictions. When they tried to impose censorship on me in America, I appealed to American justice and defended myself. [Farrell apparently refers here to a recent book-censorship case in Philadelphia – Ed.] I won my case. When the police in an American city seized certain of my books without warrant and contrary to the formal stipulations of the law, I was able to appear before the federal courts of the U.S. and prosecute the police. The books are still on sale in this city. There does not exist any cultural terror in the United States, and if you here, you people of Europe, believe that such exists, you are exposing yourselves to deception.”
 

It Can’t Happen Here

After this definitive proof of America’s democratic character, he proceeds to give his personal guarantee that it will remain so forever.

He denies the wild Stalinist charge that the U.S. is “fascist” and adds:

“I am more than certain when I affirm that I do not believe it will ever become so.”

The basis for this unshakable conviction is the existence of a large and powerful movement (which, as every student of history knows, was lacking in pre-Hitler Germany ...) and the fact that this labor movement is “independent ... and impregnated with the democratic spirit” (in contrast, we presume, with the German pre-Hitler labor movement which was merely ... socialist). There is not a hint or reference to any social or economic basis of fascism to which the passion of belief is logically irrelevant.

Farrell’s zeal in advertising the American product is so fervent as to be embarrassing. About the tendencies in American life towards further militarization, towards persecution of all revolutionary socialist political minorities, toward loyalty oaths and witch hunts, there is not a word.

These tendencies do not make American fascist nor do they guarantee that it will become fascist. But that is not the point. It is certainly incumbent on any analyst of American democracy to cite and analyze these growing tendencies, especially as they are part of the general preparation of the U.S. for war which will not cease tomorrow. But perhaps Farrell was right after all. What kind of a salesman is it who knocks his own product?
 

End of a Slide

It must be added that Farrell did mention the fact that Negroes are discriminated against in the U.S. – his only concession. This may be accounted for by the fact that it is already a well-known aspect of American life. But he mentions it only to assure his French audience that the president has signed a civil liberties report and “the libraries of the U.S. are full of books which criticize all aspects of American life.”

And he triumphantly concludes by pointing to how much worse the state of affairs is in Russia. “Do the Russian leaders sign reports condemning the evils of forced labor, repression of civil liberties and the destruction of the free trade unions? To ask the question is to answer it.”

But which question? The question whether Russia is more democratic than the U.S.? That’s an easy one. But the question that supposedly was under discussion here was the Negro question. On that point, as Farrell examined it, to ask the question was simply to ask it.

Then Farrell comes to his real point which is that all good men must rally to the support of the Atlantic Pact and the Marshall Plan. Only the Russians could benefit from their defeat and therefore we must support them. In addition, the Marshall Plan is a means of satisfying the needs of the European people and as such he is for it. From the point of view of the heart, any measure which satisfies human beings is worth unqualified support. But the heart is not the best organ for evaluating a political question and the Marshall Plan is just a bit different from a grandiose project for feeding people.

It is this emotionalism about freedom untarnished by political considerations of how to arrive at it, this hatred of Stalinism unadulterated by examinations of the best means of fighting it, which characterizes Farrell and the segment of American intellectuals he speaks for. For Farrell himself, this speech represents a rush for the bandwagon of American chauvinism at a speed greater than could have been reasonably predicted. One thing is absolutely beyond doubt and that is that there is not much further to slide.
 

Science at Work

Sidney Hook’s speech consisted mainly of his familiar litany aimed at drumming up trade for the Atlantic Pact in the hostile atmosphere of the Paris audience. We wish to focus attention on his last section where:

“As an American, and therefore free to criticize his own government, I must confess that the American government in the past has made many errors which have emboldened the Soviet regime to threaten the liberties of Europe.”

The full list of these daring criticisms, made possible only by American democracy, follows:

“It [the U.S.] did not plan properly for the freedom of Europe after the war. It accepted Soviet assurances of ‘free and unfettered’ elections with great naiveté. After hostilities the U.S. disarmed too rapidly. It withdrew its forces from the troubled regions of Central Europe too soon ...”

There are no other “errors” or defects which Hook finds it worthwhile to mention, or any perhaps which he believes to exist, none except the “error” of not being bellicose ENOUGH, tough ENOUGH against Russia. Hook is not in any danger of. being declared “subversive” for thus “attacking” the U.S. in Paris.

In his own naive fashion, Farrell remarked at one point: “The Soviet myth represents God and paradise; the anti-American myth represents hell and Satan.” Thus he paraphrased the Stalinists. What stands out in both speeches is that this Stalinist picture is merely stood on its head by Farrell and Hook: THEIR myth is also that of the angels versus the imps of hell.
 

Socialist Alternative

But where is the socialist alternative? What is left of the socialism which is still the pretense even of Hook? It would indeed have been appropriate at an RDR conference, where were concentrated many people who reject both Washington and Moscow as rulers of the world, to speak out for the socialist alternative.

It Is a popular argument against the position of the third camp to say that such a force does not exist, that therefore Realpolitiker [1] must make a choice between two evils (or in Farrell’s case, a choice of the Absolute Good). But one of the reasons the socialist third force is weak is precisely the fact that Hook and Farrell and dozens like them spend their energies and talents in organizing and propagandizing for the glory and defense of the U.S. Precisely here at the RDR conference could something have been done to build this third camp whose supposed non-existence is the reason for support to the U.S.

Thus these speakers help to defeat the very force whose present weakness is their excuse for supporting the U.S. Their retort of “Where is the third camp?” stands out clearly as the sheerest hypocritical evasion. They insist upon the necessity of choosing between two alternatives after themselves helping to throttle the third alternative, the independent socialist position against both war camps.

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Footnote by ETOL

1. “Realopiltiker” in the printed version.

 
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