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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(15 August 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 59, 15 August 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Short History of American Liberalism

“Mr. Walter Lippmann has temporarily severed his connection with the editorial board of the New Republic to enter the service of the War Department.” – Editorial announcement in the New Republic for June 9, 1917.

“Unpardonable! ... Amazing!”

I doa’t want to waste much more space on The New Leader, but I had no room last week to make one interesting point, namely, that journal’s current success in getting unattached leftist writers to adorn its pages. Its list of contributors sounds like a roll-call of the Trotsky Defense Committee: Sidney Hook, James Rorty, Suzanne LaFollette, Benjamin Stolberg, Charles Yale Harrison, Max Nomad, Ferdinand Lundberg. The odd thing is that, from what I can gather, most of these writers object, with varying degrees of violence, to the Leader’s basic editorial program: its support of the war drive, and its shameless prostration before the New Deal. (A classic in its way was the headline on a recent memorial tribute to Morris Hillquit: “HILLQUIT’S LIFELONG STRUGGLE BEARS FRUIT IN NEW DEAL LAWS”. But I still prefer Trotsky’s characterization of Hillquit as “a socialist leader for dentists”.)

There are many and complex reasons for this curious state of affairs, but right now I want to do no more than remark on two fresh and peculiarly dramatic examples.

In the July 29 issue, Charles Yale Harrison devoted his regular department, which is the main feature of the editorial page, to a denunciation of the President for his recent WPA actions. Of the Woodrum relief bill he writes: “To place the blame for this iniquitous act solely upon the shoulders of the Tories is sheer intellectual dishonesty. Mr. Roosevelt, as any Washington correspondent will tell you, never lifted a finger to halt its passage.” After some fine sneering at the miserable squirmings of the liberal and Stalinist journals, Mr. Harrison has to add: “And even the publication which is graced by this column lapsed into an unpardonable editorial silence.” If the silence was unpardonable, then it would seem logical to expect Mr. Harrison not to pardon it. But it was hardly a surprise to find him, in the next issue, back at the same old stand.

In the August 5 issue, James Rorty writes a letter beginning: “In your July 8 issue I read with amazement the resolution on peace, war and fascism adopted at the annual convention of the Social Democratic Federation of New York City.” (The Leader’s contributors seem to live in a state of perpetual surprise that Social Democrats behave like – Social Democrats.) Mr. Rorty’s letter is answered by Algernon Lee with a blast headed, “SOCIALIST MOVEMENT NEVER PACIFIST; FREEDOM WORTH FIGHTING FOR”. Lee doesn’t yield an inch, of course: the editors know quite clearly just what they want and where they are going, even if their contributors don’t.

The Leader’s contributors view its scandalous editorial policy from a height of magnificent personal aloofness. They do their stuff in one column, while the editors go to town across the page. It’s like a very pure and high-minded young man who, with the utmost detachment from all that goes on about him, comes in every night to play the bawdy house piano for the customers.

How’s-That-Again Department

“Since the first of the year, the outlook for the New Deal has undergone a startling transformation ... Politically, what has happened to revive the New Deal fortunes is that the anti-New Deal Democrats have come to realize it would be suicide for them and their party to repudiate the New Deal ... The expected assault on the New Deal by an obviously conservative Congress did not materialize.” – from an article, The New Deal Has a Future by Alfred M. Bingham in the current issue of Common Sense. Mr. Bingham’s article bears the sub-head: “An Editorial Observer Finds the Washington Atmosphere Tense with a New Confidence and Sense of Direction.”

Sweet-Land-of-Liberty Department

A friend sends in the following exhortation printed on the menu of a New York restaurant:

“Americans are bad people to cross when their simple pleasures are threatened. Think what happened over tea in 1776. [NOTE BY D.M. (just to show that Earl Browder isn’t the only one who knows about such matters): The Boston Tea Party took place December 18, 1773.] Or what might happen if ‘Pie à la Mode’ were denied us today.

“Think it over. Ice cream on pie stands for the American Way. A truly Yankee Doodle dish, Americans eat Pie à la Mode only for the fun of it. Not for duty. Not because they’re told they must.

“Ice cream on pie is an American heritage – a symbol of a free land, where one can say, do, and eat as he pleases. On our menu it appeals to the robust, free-thinking, free-eating, free-spending type of American who has built this great country of yours. Let him have it.”

The pie à la mode, my friend adds, was lousy.

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