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Dwight Macdonald

Off the Record

(14 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 15, 14 March 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Calling in an Expert

The Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration is not to be confused with the Harvard Graduate School of Public Administration. The former – better known as the Harvard Business School – was founded years ago and has expanded into a long series of handsome Georgian buildings along the bank of the Charles River. The latter is comparatively recent, and by no means as large and resplendent. The Business School is by now one of the key institutions of American capitalism. The Government School has yet to win its spurs. But business men are rapidly learning that politics, and not economics, is the master art in the world of today. They are more and more coming to face the problem of how best to manage the rather awkward transition from democratic capitalism to fascist capitalism. Last week the Harvard Government School stole a big march on its older rival when it hired the greatest living expert on this delicate process. It announced the appointment of a permanent Professor of Government: Dr. Heinrich Bruening, Chancellor of the German Republic from 1930 to 1932.

Footnote on the Late Dr. Coster

I present for what it is worth an odd item in last week’s financial pages, an item whose precise social significance I confess I am unable to determine. It seems that the sales of McKesson & Bobbins, Inc., for January, 1939, were $12,070,000, as against $12,132,000 for the same month of 1938. This seems to indicate that “public opinion” disapproved of the late J. Donald Coster-Musica by just $82,000 worth out of a $12,000,000 gross. It is also confusing to learn that, although one element of the scandal was that McKesson & Bobbins had gotten into repeated trouble with Federal agencies because its drugs were impure or adulterated, yet its drug sales this January were actually a little bigger than they had been a year ago. Is the old saw actually true – that any publicity is good publicity?

The Customer is Never Right

Sheets are as scarce in the Third Reich as everything else except guns. The story is told of a housewife who managed to persuade a shopkeeper to sell her a single sheet. When she got home, she found a tag on it stating that boiling would have a disastrous effect. She took it back to the shop and asked to exchange it for one that could be laundered. “Certainly,” said the shopkeeper, “but you must first sign this.” And he gave her a paper bearing the words: I AM AN ENEMY OF THE FOUR YEAR PLAN. The lady changed, not her sheet, but her mind.

Non-Sectarian Stalinism

Last week I received in the mail a moving appeal for funds from a Mrs. J.C. Guggenheimer, who is treasurer of the Non-Sectarian Committee for Political Refugees. “Dear Friend,” it began, “We are asking you to help save a life – a life that is in imminent danger at the hands of Hitler’s executioner. The extradition of 1,500 men and women, German and Austrian refugees, who before Munich had found asylum in Czechoslovakia, is being demanded daily by Gestapo agents in Prague. The enclosed folder will explain their plight, proven by the fate of Peter Foerster, whose head fell in Weimar on December 21, 1938.” The folder detailed some heartrending facts about these anti-fascists, caught in the steadily contracting net of a Czechoslovakia going fascist. Foerster’s case was especially tragic: he had escaped to Prague from a German concentration camp. After Munich, the Nazis demanded his extradition, and executed him the day after he was put back across the border. Not one of the democracies would give him a visa. Nor would the Soviet Union, which has, as every one knows, refused to allow a single refugee to cross her heavily policed borders. Even members of the Czech Communist Party, according to all reports, have been refused Soviet visas. Russia’s attitude on these 1,500 anti-fascist refugees trapped in Czechoslovakia, in fact, is so scandalous that even the New Republic ventured a mild editorial reproof in its February 1 issue: “Russia has done nothing and promised nothing (though Foerster’s life could have been saved by a Russian or any other visa).”

All this is familiar enough. What gives Mrs. Guggenheimer’s letter a certain news value is that her “Non-Sectarian Committee for Political Refugees” has for its chairman the Hon. Vito Marcantonio, and bears as its subtitle, in smaller letters: “International Labor Defense.” Thus the Stalinists appeal for funds to save refugees whom the Kremlin is delivering over to Hitler’s executioners. I have written a naive and worried note to Mrs. Guggenheimer asking for an explanation of this paradox, but so far she has maintained a discreet silence on the subject.

The Penalties of Wealth

These are uneasy, dangerous times, when anything may happen. The unemployed worry about how they will feed themselves if W.P.A. is cut again. The employed worry about the rising tide of anti-unionism and the dubious political future of the Wagner Act. All of us hold our breath as the explosion of a second world war is averted from week to week. Even the debutantes, it seems, have their worries. “This season, there are a dozen uncertainties!” exclaims a current ad for Vogue magazine, and proceeds to list them: “Will you wear a starched, flirtatious petticoat? Or will you turn gypsy in plaids and stripes and jingling jewelry? Will you do your hair in a chignon and tie an 1860 bonnet under your chin? Or will you crop your curls in a ‘baby’ cut and tuck them under a crisp white sailor?” I am not up to some of the technical terms – “chignon” suggests nothing at all to me, and “crisp white sailor” suggests perhaps too much. But I gather that even Vogue’s clientele finds modern life terrifying and confusing. We should never forget that the rich have their troubles, just like all the rest of us.

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