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(Spring 1960)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 1, Spring 1960, p. 29.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Paul Blackledge.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Senator Joe McCarthy
Richard Rovere
Methuen. pp. 217. 18/–

A biography of a demagogue which deals only with the man and not with his times, his environment and his sources of power, is most unsatisfactory. Richard Rovere has sketched a portrait of McCarthy and completely whitewashed the background to his picture. Nevertheless a few stark features show through the watery layer of apologetics.

The author admits that, in the main, Big Business financed McCarthy, who quickly squandered the takings from his hysteria-raising crusades. The Lustron Corporation paid his gambling debts, Texas oil millionaires bought his Cadillacs, and Pepsi-Cola and Seaboard Airlines both enriched him in return for much McCarthy manipulation of the sugar-rationing laws and of the state-run Reconstruction Finance Corporation. By the time the Senate investigating sub-committee had discovered all this, they were too much in fear and trembling of denunciation to reveal it.

All this, however, cannot be considered as abnormal in American post-war politics nor a source of devastating power to a demagogue. Perhaps public fear and ignorance were his greatest supports but the question of why they existed and why he was allowed to exploit them, remains. Here the author spreads the whitewash on thickest and the part played by the mass media and its controllers is ignored or excused. In a footnote to a remarkable passage explaining why the whole press gave such prominence to his utterances, this statement appears:

“... for I suspect that there is no surer way to a corrupt and worthless press than to authorise reporters to tell readers which ‘facts’ are really ‘facts’ and which are not.”

Facts, in inverted commas, because it was a ‘fact’ that McCarthy said that General Marshall was a traitor.

The author, himself seems to fall victim to a common theme in McCarthyism – the changing of the meaning of words. This can be the only explanation of his statement that McCarthy was not a reactionary, because he believed in state housing – an argument reminiscent of the admirers of the man who made the trains run to time, in a previous era.

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