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Dwight Macdonald

Reading from Left To Right

(February 1939)

From New International, Vol. V No. 2, February 1939, pp. 55–56.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE NATION SLIPS EVER more swiftly into the worn old grooves of the War To Make the World Safe for Democracy. Thomas Mann continues to extol bourgeois democracy, at good fees, before large and enthusiastic audiences. The Transcontinental & Western Air Line changes its subtitle from “The Lindbergh Line” to “The Sunny Santa Fe Trail.” Random House advertizes its new Pageant of the States: “Will inculcate a great love of country. An ideal gift book, particularly for youngsters.” Even Hollywood has dared at last, in spite of the Hays office and the Catholic censorship, to exploit the rising tide of antifascist sentiment. Walter Wanger, who produced Blockade, has joined Senator Capper, Frederick March, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Henry Pratt Fairchild, Marc Connelly, and, of course, Thomas Mann in founding “Films for Democracy,” while the Warner Brothers have announced no less than four anti-Nazi films for this Spring. The tragic thing is that this universal detestation of fascism is, in itself, a credit to human nature. It is only when linked up, as it must be under capitalism, with the armed defense of the bourgeois status quo, that it turns sour. The next world slaughter, like the last, will be staged for the highest ethical reasons.

* * *

Blow, Bugle, Blow! The strongest note in the chauvinist symphony was sounded by the President. The Nation – which one remembers, with difficulty, as having been once a respectable liberal weekly – ran a lead editorial:

“The President’s opening message to Congress rang out like a bugle across the world to rally the dispirited and retreating democracies to a stand. Both its manner and its matter place it among the great state papers of our history. Glowingly eloquent, it was a long way from mere rhetoric. Its essential appeal was to the intelligence, and as such [sic!] it formed a striking contrast to the frenzied demagogy of the dictators ... To suggest that the President, in urging definite American resistance to aggression, was whipping up a jingo spirit is grossly unjust.”

I don’t want to be grossly unjust, especially to any one with as many headaches as F.D.R. has at the moment, but I admit I detected a certain martial strain in his bugle call.

But for all their enthusiasm, the editors of the Nation prudently kept their fingers crossed. As is their custom these confusing days, they took back in the fourth paragraph most of what they had stated in the first. Calling on the President to raise the embargo on shipments of munitions to Spain, they wrote:

“Hesitation will reduce a magnificent speech to mere wind. We look to him to act and act now.”

Since a good two weeks have gone by since this was written, and the President has shown no signs of acting, I take it that his “great state paper” has now been automatically reduced to “mere wind”. But what is one to think of political commentators who have to wait two weeks to find out the most elementary Facts of Life?

The Nation adjures the President in pathetic tones to raise the embargo. The New Leader headlines, “TORIES KEEP FOOD, GUNS FROM LOYALISTS”. But who applied the Neutrality Act to Spain in the first place? Who clapped on this embargo on arms for the struggling Spanish people? Who but that Paladin of Liberty, that plumed knight of Democracy, Franklin D. Roosevelt! When he found that, under the Neutrality Act, he could not prevent the shipment of munitions to Loyalist Spain, the President forced through Congress a special resolution forbidding such shipments. Now that it looks as though Franco is winning, now that the republic has its back to the wall, and above all now that fascism has suddenly been discovered to be The Enemy, every one from Secretary Ickes to “Wrong Horse Harry” Stimson, Hoover’s Secretary of State, wants to raise the embargo. Unquestionably, the President would like to do so. But I think it doubtful that he will, since he is neither a paladin nor a plumed knight, except in the fevered imagination of Nation editors, but rather an extremely skillful bourgeois politician who knows that the Catholic vote is formidable – and that, within twenty-four hours after a recent pronouncement by the Catholic hierarchy, more than 100,000 telegrams were delivered to Congessmen demanding the embargo be retained.

* * *

“Janus” sends in his monthly quota of smart remarks: There is no room in Russia for the German refugees, we hear, because the jails are full already ... “NO COSTER CASE POSSIBLE IN SOVIET UNION” headlined the Daily Worker.

After all, the Russian Coster is installed in the Kremlin ... Although it now accepts a wide variety of advertisements in its drive towards democracy and war, the Daily Worker draws the line at patent medicine ads. It is satisfied with corruption of the mind ... Chiang Kai-shek was a great disappointment to Stalin. Brüning was a great disappointment to Stalin. Schuschnigg was a great disappointment to Stalin. Chamberlain was a great disappointment to Stalin. Daladier was a great disappointment to Stalin. Roosevelt ...?

* * *

Clare Sheridan was a good-looking young Englishwoman, a cousin of Winston Churchill, who went to Russia in 1920 to make portrait heads of the great ones of the revolution: Lenin, Trotsky, Dzerzhinsky, Krassin, Kamenev, Zinoviev. (She doesn’t seem to have heard of Stalin.) When she returned to England, she wrote a little book about her experiences which, despite a certain gushiness, still makes good reading. Her account of Kamenev, under whose aegis she made the trip, is particularly interesting – and, in 1938, moving. She tells of a big labor meeting in Trafalgar Square they attended together:

“Some one recognized Kamenev, and the whisper went round and spread like wildfire. The men on either side of him asked if they might announce he was there, to which he answered a most emphatic ‘No.’ When Lansbury had finished speaking, there was an appeal for money for the ‘Cause.’ It was interesting to watch the steady rain of coins, and very touching to see how the poor gave their pennies. Lansbury buried his face in his hat to shield himself from the metallic rain. After that we went away, and a gangway was made for us, and all along the whisper went of ‘Kamenev,’ and the faces that looked at us were radiant as though they beheld a savior.”

Later on, she describes her parting, in Moscow, from Kamenev:

“He would not listen to any words of appreciation. He smiled in his genial, kindly way: ‘Of course we were glad to receive you, une femme artiste – what did it matter to us, your nationality, or your relations. There is only one thing que nous ne pouvons pas supporter’ – and for the first time in all the months I have known him a hard look passed over his face and he set his teeth: ‘The only thing we cannot stand, c’est l’espionage,’ and the way he said it gave me a shiver down my spine.”

* * *

Any one who has ever followed trade papers knows that business men talk quite differently among themselves than for public consumption. Such publications call spades by their right name, since their readers want information, not propaganda. Thus in a recent issue of one of those “confidential” news-letters that are sent out from Washington to a business clientele, there is a story about the New Deal’s latest plans for increasing consumption. “Idea is to find ways of enabling more people to eat more food,” the letter begins, and continues bluntly:

“It appears to be a fact that 1/3 of our people, perhaps even ½, don’t get enough to eat ... So – step up consumption, eat up surpluses, thus aid farmers. That’s the basic idea. How? One way might be by socialism or communism.”

Thus casually, between themselves, do business men concede that communism would give people more to eat.

* * *

To round out John Masefield’s quatrain on Chamberlain, printed in this department recently, Earle Birney of The Canadian Forum sends this stanza of his own composition:

And as Achilles dragged old Priam’s son
Three times round Troy, and then returned the dead
So Adolf tossed you from the war now sped
The gritty corpse of peace not yet begun.

* * *

The Coster Case (continued). At least two movies are being rushed to completion on the Coster case, and no doubt the full story will soon appear in book form. Meanwhile, there are several interesting items that may have escaped your attention ... To break a CIO strike of warehousemen, the late Coster-Musica signed one of William Green’s famous “fink contracts,” which had the usual sections setting minimum hours and maximum pay (instead of vice versa, as one might expect in a union contract), and pledging the AF of L to function as strikebreaker in case of any “trouble” with the CIO ... When one of the Musica sisters married a gardner, her brothers were annoyed because she had “married into the working class” – which didn’t prevent them, later on, from borrowing $1,000 from her ... It turns out that Coster’s biography in Who’s Who was almost 100% fictitious, including two mythical college degrees and an impressive roster of clubs to which he did not belong. The editors of Who’s Who have stated that it is their policy to offer “without question” a listing to such pillars of bourgeois society as “heads of the established institutions of learning ... bishops and chief ecclesiastics ... presidents of the larger businesses.” They feel that, among their 77,000 listings, “the Coster-Musica fraud has every indication of being unique”. Just what these “indications” are, they don’t specify ... The wits of Wall Street have had a field day with the scandal. It has been suggested that Coster might be termed a “hypothecary”, and that he committed suicide because “he couldn’t face the Musica”. And a rhyme is being circulated:

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard
To get her poor dog a bone;
When she got there, the cupboard was bare
– And what a surprise that was to Price, Waterhouse & Co.

* * *

No-Comment Department: “Senator Glass, when asked for an opinion, remarked with some vigor: ‘Whatever is asked for relief will be three times too much’.” (NY Times, Jan. 4.)

* * *

Rosa Luxemburg wrote her celebrated Junius Pamphlet from a German prison cell during the last war, but most of it is tragically applicable to the situation today. One passage out of many is worth recalling:

Our party press was filled with moral indignation over the fact that Germany’s foes should drive black men and barbarians, Negroes, Sikhs, and Maoris into the war. Yet these peoples play a role in this war that is approximately identical with that played by the socialist proletariat in the European states. If the Maoris of New Zealand were eager to risk their skulls for the English king, they showed as much understanding of their own interests as the German social-democratic group that traded the existence, the freedom and the civilization of the German people for the existence of the Hapsburg monarchy, for Turkey and for the vaults of the Deutsche Bank.

One difference there is between the two. A generation ago, Maori Negroes were still cannibals and not students of Marxian philosophy.

When one reads a passage like that, one understands why the Kremlin has recently let loose a campaign of slander and calumny against the memory of Luxemburg.

* * *

There have been some objections to my note on the Steel Workers Organizing Committee last month, especially to the sentence:

“And even if Little Steel signs up with the SWOC, it will mean only that its workers will be organized under one capitalist flag rather than another.”

I must admit this formulation is rather too sharp. However distorted and crippled by bureaucratic control, the SWOC is nonetheless a genuine union, and hence responsive to the pressure and the needs of the workers as the company unions of Little Steel by their very nature cannot be. And the more workers flock into the SWOC, the greater will be the rank-and-file pressure for a more democratic type of organization.

* * *

Note on Reformism: The Securities Act of 1933 forbade banks which accepted deposits to engage in the underwriting of securities. A great victory for the forces of righteousness! The wickedest monster of them all, J.P. Morgan & Co., was actually forced to give up its vast underwriting business! And so one of the third generation Morgans went off and founded the house of Morgan, Stanley & Co., which was completely independent of 23 Wall Street except that Morgan money financed it and Morgan customers somehow found their way thither. Latest news on the progress of this great reform move is supplied by a recent SEC release on securities issued between January 1 and September 30, 1938. Morgan, Stanley is far in the lead, with $365,100,000 worth of securities. Halsey, Stuart & Co., was a poor second with $144,300,000 and Bonbright an even worse third with $78,000,000.

* * *

Cat-out-of-Bag-Department: “To obtain full cooperation in such a broad and coordinated national defense program, improved relations between Government and business are necessary and will doubtless be sought by the Administration.” (From a market letter recently issued by Delafield & Delafield, of 14 Wall Street.)


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