Irving Howe Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Irving Howe, Henry Judd & Susan Green

Protest & Reply

(June 1942)

The Readers of Labor Action Take to the Floor ..., Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 22, 1 June 1942, p. 3 & Vol. 6 No. 24, 15 June 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Irving Howe & Henry Judd

A Letter of Protest

Dear Editor:

Being not merely contributors to. but enthusiastic readers of Labor Action, we read Susan Green’s review of Native Land in last week’s issue and decided thereupon to immediately see the picture. Imagine, we said to ourselves, a movie that is favorable to labor!

Well, we went, we saw – and we think that Susan owes us a $1.30 refund for two tickets.

“The cumulative effect of the film,” writes Susan, “is even greater than the sum of these gripping incidents.” Now, how does she figure that one out?

What the Stalinist producers of this film have done is to put together a few reportorial scenes, depicting, for the most part, factual incidents with considerable accuracy. That’s OK. It’s a good thing to show the

Memorial Day massacre again, to re-enact the beating of Shoemaker and Poulnot by the KKK.

But when the Stalinists’ deliberately misuse thee incidents, when they deliberately lie about their social significance, that is another story. What the Stalinists are doing here is implying that the present imperialist war is merely a continuation of the struggle of the American workers and they should unite with their exploiters of yesterday (and today!).

When Susan Green sees the movie, she may remember the Memorial Bay massacre more vividly than the Stalinist blatherings spoken by Paul Robeson. But that is because she understands the politics involved. An ordinary spectator may quite easily be taken in by the political chicanery of this film.

Nor is it merely a question of disagreeing with the politics of the film’s producers. Their Stalinist politics protrude through every inch of! the film. This results in a hazy vagueness about who are the exploiters a positively embarrassing delicacy about the meaning of the incidents depicted.

Susan says that the “cumulative effect” of the film “is accomplished by the writing of David Wolff.” We beg to differ – and strongly – on this. The script is pretentious and impossibly wordy. It has neither beauty nor truthfulness; it is a typical job of a Stalinist hack, bearing the unmistakable signs of a close study of the prose style of Mike Gold.

Well, we suppose we’ve gotten across the idea that we think that Native Land is a big fake concocted by the Stalinist propaganda machine.

What about that refund, Susan?


Irving Howe
Henry Judd

Susan Green

Contributor Replies to Protest Letter

Dear Editor:

Allow me a few lines of precious space to answer Irving Howe and Henry Judd on the subject of the movie, Native Land, which I reviewed for Labor Action a few weeks ago.

I believe my good colleagues were so incensed at the Stalinist attempt to twist the struggles of labor in its own behalf into far-fetched war propaganda, that they failed to see two things. First, the subject matter of the movie is vivid, stirring stuff and remains that in spite of the Stalinist twist of the narrative. Second, the Stalinist effort to make a connection between the struggles of labor and the present imperialist war was a complete flop. Some reviewers in the capitalist press sensed this and – as indicated in my review – became alarmed for “national unity.” One might conclude from this alarm that at least some writers for the capitalist press give the ordinary worker credit for possessing the brains he was born with. The Stalinists do not. I do.

Furthermore, while my friendly critics give the impression that I had nothing but praise for the movie, the fact is quite different. At least half of my review slams at the very Stalinist palaver that made them so mad.

As for the $1.30 – try and get it!


Susan Green

Irving Howe Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 27.6.2013