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James T. Farrell

Readers of Labor Action Take the Floor ...

Farrell Objects on Wright Interview

(11 June 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 26, 27 June 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


In your issue of May 30, 1949, you carried the translation of an interview with Richard Wright in Paris. Concerning “The International Day of Resistance to War and Dictatorship,” Richard Wright was quoted as having made the following statement:

“When the American delegates arrived in Paris, they expected that, like themselves, I would take a position resolutely in favor of the Marshall Plan and the Atlantic Pact. I immediately told them that my position on these questions – and on many others – was not the same as theirs.”

The American delegates to this conference, alluded to in this statement, were Sidney Hook and myself. Sidney Hook had no political discussions with Richard Wright in Paris. The consequence, this statement refers to myself.

Richard Wright has either been misquoted, or else he was inaccurate and misleading. Prior to the conference, I had one meeting with Richard Wright. He raised the question of his participation in the conference. He was dissatisfied, and his dissatisfaction had developed before Hook and I had arrived in Paris. It was an expression of an inner RDR difference. After he told me how he felt, I advised him to do nothing at all concerning the conference. I said that I did not think that a man should act against his convictions in any manner, and that if he had any doubts concerning the purposes of the organization of the conference, it would be best for him to play no role at all. In our discussion, differences concerning the Marshall Plan and the Atlantic Pact played no role. In fact, we scarcely discussed them at all. Far from attempting to put any kind of pressure on Richard Wright, I advised him, in the most gentle possible manner, to act on his convictions, and not to participate in any kind of a venture if he felt he would violate his convictions. In the light of this fact, it is clear why I describe his statement as inaccurate and misleading.

I might add that out of ignorance, you have pointed up the significance of this statement in the wrong way. Contrary to what you stated in Labor Action, Richard Wright did not attend the conference; he boycotted it. The statement which he, Jean-Paul Sartre and Merleau- Ponty signed was sent to the conference. It was written before Sidney Hook and I delivered our speeches, and neither Sartre, Merleau-Ponty nor Wright knew what Hook and I were going to say. Their opposition was against David Rousset and the other leaders of RDR, more than it was against Hook and myself, because of the fact that they did not know what position Hook and I were taking.

In the light of the above, I’d like to give advice to your editor, which I think is as good as the advice I gave to Richard Wright in Paris. My advice to you is this – in the future, it will not hurt you, your paper, nor your principles, if you will find out what you are writing about before you write.

June 11, 1949

Sincerely yours,
James T. Farrell

* * *

[Reply to Farrell]

1) We’re glad to publish Farrell’s comment on the statement by Richard Wright as given in the Salomon interview. Labor Action has always been, and will remain, anxious to correct any mis-statement of fact, including unimportant ones.

2) Why Wright’s incidental remark (to which he gave no emphasis at all in his interview) is considered so “misleading” by Farrell is a little hard for us to see at first blush, however, and it is perhaps slightly harder to see why Farrell should be quite as upset as the tone of his letter indicates. Perhaps Wright was mistaken when he thought the “American delegates” “expected” him to be for the Marshall Plan and the Pact – in any case we fail to grasp the “significance” which Farrell apparently sees. And to this Wright merely added that he “immediately told them” what his position was (he is NOT quoted in the interview as stating that there was any discussion on the questions).

3) Nor was there the slightest imputation by Wright that Farrell or any one else was “attempting to put any kind of pressure” (political pressure, we assume) on him. But we are compelled to add that in our opinion it would have been perfectly legitimate and natural for Farrell and Hook to have done just that – what on earth would be wrong with doing so? We make this comment only because we gather from Farrell’s letter that he feels he is defending himself from an accusation of having done something wrong, somehow.

4) In the detailed report on the RDR conference which appeared in our issue of May 23, the precise facts about Wright’s relationship to the conference are given. He and Sartre “withdrew their active participation in the conference” but “later modified their attitude and sent a written declaration to the conference expressing their views.” In the editorial note in the following issue preceding the interview with Wright, it was incorrectly stated that Wright “attended” the conference. Farrell’s correction on the second is enthusiastically welcomed.

That burning question being settled, we still have to be enlightened with regard to the “significance” of this error. Frankly we can’t think of any. For whatever relevance it may have to the question, it may be useful to add that the opposition of many in France to the arrangements made by the leaders of the RDR was at least in part motivated by the fact that Such people as Farrell, Hook and Mrs. Roosevelt, supporters of American imperialism’s policies, had been invited to speak as the representatives of the American Left.

5) The advice which Farrell says he gave Wright – “to do nothing at all concerning the conference” – is one which we are glad Wright did not accept, at least to the extent of submitting his excellent written declaration against both war camps. On the basis of the foregoing, the reader may perhaps agree with us that Farrell’s rather nasty last sentence is the peevish sort of thing which one writes in a pique and then discreetly crosses out before mailing – that is, if one has given it a second thought. – Ed.

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