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Irving Howe


The Free World of Bankrupts

(October 1941)

From The New International, Vol. VII No. 9, October 1941, pp. 254–5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

AMONG THE innumerable bourgeois democratic magazines that are making their appearance these days, Free World (issued for the first time at the end of September) occupies a leading position. It has what even the most casual observer can notice in a moment – Class (in a sedate sort of way.) Its international honorary board and international editorial board read like a Who’s Who of Unemployed Bourgeois Ministers. The veritable cream of the intellectual stars of the democratic world – the former foreign ministers of former democratic republics, the former editors of former social-democratic newspapers, plus a liberal sprinkling of American foreign correspondents – grace the pages of Free World. Alvarez del Vayo, who betrayed the Spanish workers, rubs shoulders with Pierre Cot, who betrayed the French workers and helped no little in strangling the Spanish. The new school of hysterical war-thirsty females is represented by Dorothy Thompson and Freda Kirchwey. And there are the usual array of South American, Chinese and other second-rate politicians of second-rate powers. Nor is the American intelligentsia unrepresented: the arch-reactionary, Nicholas Murray Butler, is one of the beacon lights of Free World.

While most of the articles in the first number of Free World consist of panegyrics for moral values, democracy, human dignity, essential nobility, independent thinking and other fine things, there is one article of unusual interest, which if its type is to continue can become a great institution of world letters. This is the article called Round Table No. 1, consisting of a purported transcript of a conversation presumed to have been held between the following dignitaries: Quo Tai-chi, Foreign Minister of the Chinese Republic and an agent of that well known democrat, Chiang Kai-shek; Dr. Hugo Fernandez Artucio, professor of the University of Montevideo; Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, American Minister to Norway; Count Sforza, pre-Mussolini Foreign Minister of Italy; Pierre Cot, Minister of Air in the Leon Blum cabinet; and J. Alvarez del Vayo, Foreign Minister of the Negrin cabinet of Loyalist Spain. An imposing array, eh what?

My! What Scoundrels We Have Been!

These people have come together to reminisce about the immediate causes of the Second World War and the parts they played. They begin with a discussion of the appeasement policy which to them is the Original Sin from which all the other transgressions follow. Sforza, who is the cleverest of the lot, understands part of the cause of the appeasement policy – the desire of the Allied imperialists to draw Hitler into war against the Soviet Union – but he succumbs to the fantasy which they all hold: the theory that it was due to blindness on the part of the leaders of England and France. In reality, of course, appeasement was merely an integral part of imperialist policy, as war is today. It was part of the desperate game that the Allies were playing of (1) trying to buy Hitler off in order to avoid what they saw as the dreadful consequence of the war for world capitalism as a whole; and (2) continued stalling for time so that they could rebuild their military machines. The proof of this is that when Chamberlain came back to England after the Munich pact which he said was going to preserve the peace ... he also hastened to mention that in his opinion the first job of England was to arm to the teeth!

These bourgeois democrats, try to lull themselves (and others) with the illusion that the roots of this war are an ideological repugnance for fascism, rather than imperialist rivalry.

But the most damning testimony comes from the lips of Pierre Cot. He tells us in detail how the Peoples Front government betrayed the French workers, how the government had specific knowledge of the tie-up between the Cagoulards and the army general staff and refused to act upon it, how the government deliberately kowtowed to Britain on the issue of aid to Loyalist Spain. What a damning record of the impotence and futility of class collaboration; what a complete confirmation of everything Trotsky wrote anent Monsieur Cot’s Front Populaire.

But all that Cot can understand is that if he and the others would have fought for allowing Loyalist Spain to purchase arms is ... that it would have caused a cabinet crisis, which would have been “hardly propitious.” Those whom the gods would destroy ...

They Would Do It Over Again

The one other interesting aspect of the magazine is the streak of haunting inferiority complex and perplexity and doubt which runs through every article as to war aims. Being theoreticians of the capitalist class instead of mere propagandists for it, these people find it necessary to attempt to formulate some program. Thus, Eduard Benes begins with some awesome phrases about human dignity, etc. (see list of adjectives at the beginning of the article) and ends, somewhat bashfully, with his real program: the dismemberment of Germany. Another writer suggests that there be no statement of war aims since the war aims of the Allies are too noble, too idealistic (see list of adjectives at the beginning of the article) to bear concrete statement. Still another writer suggests that the ideology of ... Sun Yat-Senism become the basis of the new world if the Allies win.

And then there is Nicholas Murray Butler, who says that he wants a new world wherein the rich will be taught not to exploit the poor – too much – and the poor will be taught not to hate the rich!

We carefully refrain from further comment – there are times when it is better to stand in awesome silence than to attempt to say anything.

P.S. – We have forgotten to mention that Free World is graced by an extraordinarily bad poem by Archibald MacLeish. But, come to think of it, what is there so surprising about that? Could anyone imagine this sort of a magazine without an extraordinarily bad poem by Archibald MacLeish? – I.H.

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