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James Burnham

Their Government

(4 August 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 56, 4 August 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

MRA – “Moral Re-Armament” – has been getting a big play in the press lately. It recently climaxed a cross-country series of meetings with a capacity crowd (25,000) at the Hollywood Bowl, and has currently been holding a “convention” at the swank California resort of Del Monte. Thirty-three State governors, and President Roosevelt, have sent messages of endorsement. Henry Ford is very enthusiastic, and Louis Mayer of M.G.M. (one of the six highest on the recently published list of 1937 salaries) spoke at the Bowl ceremony.

What is this movement, and where did it come from? Why are politicians and big shots so happy to have their names connected with it, and why do virtually all newspapers treat it at such length and so kindly? When we notice that Roy Weir, of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union, Charles Copperman of the California Teamsters, and a number of Scandinavian labor officials have been conspicuous at the California meetings, these questions become worth enquiring into.

Primitive Christianity, à la Buchman

MRA is the new ballyhoo by-line for a movement which has been known for a number of years as the “Oxford Groups”, which was self-advertised as a twentieth century return to the primitive Christian Brotherhood of the first century, A.D. Before it took the title of “Oxford Groups”, this movement was usually known as “Buchmanism”, from the name of its founder, Frank Buchman.

Buchman, a plump, soft, oily fellow with the typical appearance of a thousand small town Kiwanis Club secretaries, started his comfortable racket fifteen or more years ago, in the United States. He busily “converted” suitable persons through a patent method of his own, which he called “soul surgery”, to a “new life” based on “God guidance”. He specialized in young people of respectable families, particularly good-looking young men, and wealthy dowagers.

High point in his course of treatment was the “House Party”. A rich sympathizer (several members of the Rockefeller family, for example, were included) would turn over a big house, and a group would be invited for a few days. Long meetings would be held, at which individuals would make public “confessions” of the errors of their ways: drinking, gambling, and such-like skullduggery, but, in the case of the really smash confessions, charmingly intertwined with plenty of sex.

After good thorough confessing, the converts would become model citizens, and go around converting their acquaintances.

For a while Buchman set up shop at Princeton University; but at that time, for some reason, the undergraduates did not take kindly to his brand of theologico-pornographic pap, and, in the wave of an angry protest, Buchman found it expedient to pull up stakes.

A Not-So-Innocent Abroad

Soon thereafter, Buchman showed up at Oxford University in England, traditional home, as Matthew Arnold called it, of lost causes. After a few months’ careful maneuvering with the right people, he got off to a flying start. Prominent figures signed on the dotted line, and House Parties were blossoming around the English country-side. He stretched out to Holland, and, oddly enough, to South Africa, in both of which spots he met a jolly reception; and he found the Scandinavian countries, also, hospitable.

He followed the same method in getting key recruits: young people, especially young men, of good appearance and families, and older persons of wealth and if possible of title.

He worked on a gradually bigger scale. He travelled often with hundreds of followers (there were a thousand on his just completed trip to California), in the best of style. Yet no one seemed to know where the money came from. He never asked for contributions, or passed a plate, like an ordinary preacher.

And such a friendly man! The first time you meet him, it’s “Frank” this and “Bill” that: no such formalities as “Mr.” among the Buchmanites. And such hearty slaps on the back and practical jokes and general good fellowship!

New Worlds to Conquer

As his movement grew, Buchman’s ideas have grown with it. A couple of years ago, he made his first little ventures into politics. His voice is getting louder in telling the world how to run its business, how MRA is going to solve the problems of depression and crisis and war – this was the theme of the Hollywood jamboree.

And here, my friends, is where Labor comes in, as MRA’s “Absolute Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, Love” get into political action.

From the New York Times, reporting the Del Monte convention:

“Lauritz Laustsen, a Danish sawmill worker, in broken English told a story of how his employer had been ‘guided by God’ to give better conditions. This had built up confidence among the men, he said, so that in the midst of deadlocked strike negotiations the trades union president told an employer that because he was morally rearmed he trusted him, and any terms he might make would be acceptable.”

At the Bowl meeting, from the platform, Copperman, the Teamsters’ official, pledged his-friendship to G.G. Bennett – who happens to be president of Associated Farmers in the Imperial Valley.

Clear enough, then, why Henry Ford telegraphed his support to MRA and all its works. What need for unionism at River Rouge, when the workers can get all the better conditions they want simply by putting faith in the morally re-armed Henry Ford? Let us hope, however, that Edsel (and Campbell and Bennett) are following the example of the God-guided Henry.

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