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Books in Review

Lobbyist for the People

(June 1954)

From The New International, Vol. XX No. 3\&a|, May–June 1954, pp. 159–160.
Transcribed & marked up by
Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Lobbyist for the People
Benjamin C. Marsh
Public Affairs Press, Washington D.C. 224 pages, $3.00

Ben Marsh’s story of his fifty years as a lobbyist for various causes is a lively handbook of the populist movements of the last half century. Woven into the story is also a clear statement of the naive philosophy of social reformism which animated these movements by one of their most radical spokesmen who actually considered himself an irreconcilable opponent of the capitalist system itself.

Among the movements for which Marsh worked as lobbyist were LaFollette’s Farmer-Labor Party, the Farm Labor Union of the South, the Farmers National Council, the Anti-Monopoly League, the People’s Reconstruction League, the People’s Legislative Service, the Joint Committee on Unemployment (1931), and finally, for many years, the People’s Lobby.

Throughout, he considered himself a revolutionary opponent of capitalism. Thus, he never became a supporter of the New Deal, which he regarded as a slick scheme to save the system. He was quite clear on the role of military expenditures as the only stable prop of capitalism since the Second World War. And as he had been looking at Washington from the “inside” for so many years, there was little room for illusion in his mind about the possibility of major social change via either of the two capitalist parties.

Yet Marsh never joined any of the socialist or Stalinist movements throughout his life. He fought for one reform after another and even as he wrote the book after his active life as a lobbyist was over, he never seemed to find anything contradictory or even incongruous about this type of political activity for a man who rejected the basic premises on which it had to be conducted.

As the years went by, Marsh records fewer and fewer legislative successes for the causes which he represented in the capital. Since the People’s Lobby had a pacifistic slant on disarmament, it had really become out of step with the times. Marsh himself was sufficiently opposed to capitalism not to get sucked into the cold-war justification of anti-Stalinist witch-hunting, and at the same time, so fiercely devoted to human freedom that he could never get sucked into support of Stalinism. Thus he and his organization gradually drew farther and farther away from the mainstreams of American liberalism without being able to establish any social base of its own. During its last years the People’s Lobby was pretty much Ben Marsh with his penchant for grabbing a headline by a striking phrase before a Congressional Committee, and a handful of people who were willing to pay the cash to keep him and his little publication going.

Ben Marsh’s life story pretty well depicts the battles of consistent liberalism during the first half of this century. But the times have become too complicated for liberalism to remain consistent, which is another way of saying that the system has now decayed so far beyond the possibility of reform that the would-be reformers have become infected and their principles have begun to decay with it. Marsh was immune to such infection. But since he could not change his basically reformist viewpoint, he was doomed to become no more than an uncomfortable reminder to them of what their ideals had been in the past.

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Last updated: 26 April 2019