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The Wailing Liberals

(July 1942)

From Fourth International, Vol.3 No.7, July 1942, pp.201-203.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

America’s liberals are beginning to beat their breasts in lamentation. “Democratic” imperialism is repaying their faithful services with a weighty boot on their tender backsides. Liberals and sub-rosa and one-time Stalinists are being hounded out of government jobs by the hundreds. A government witch-hunt is in progress against liberals in the shipyards, radio communications and other maritime services by orders of Secretary of the Navy Knox. The liberal literary lights, who have sought to shine in the government propaganda agencies, are being snuffed out.

These personal indignities are but half the burden of the liberals’ laments. The other half is that, no matter how loudly the liberals shout, “This is really and truly a war for democracy,” the deeds of the bourgeois rulers cry out even more loudly, “This is an imperialist war.”

In the heat of the “war for democracy,” the New Deal is melting away. Its much-vaunted social reforms, the CCC, NYA, WPA, etc., its social and labor legislation are being liquidated. The government war agencies have been tucked away in the pockets of Big Business. Reactionaries of the vilest stripe are being coddled by the administration, not only at home but internationally. The State Department is maintaining toward Petain, Franco and Mannerheim an attitude singularly fraternal for a government that is urging the masses to fight and die “against fascism.”

The liberals are embarrassed. Like the dreamer who sees himself exposed in some public place minus his pants and is incapable of running to cover, the liberals are suffering from involuntary indecent exposure. Only they aren’t dreaming.

“How Can Such Things Be?”

The first personal blows came when ex-Stalinoid Malcolm Cowley, an editor of the liberal weekly, New Republic, and the writer C. Hartley Grattan were unceremoniously booted out of the Office of Facts and Information. This first sprinkling has since turned into a flood, with hundreds of other liberals swept out of government jobs.

The Stalino-liberal newspaper PM has been wailing at length about this government witch-hunt. The June 10 PM reports:

“Employees of the Government of the United States in this year of 1942, a New Deal Government headed by FDR, have lost their right of free speech and free thought.

“This is the direct and most important result of a current ‘Red’ witch-hunt – the color is Dies-tinted – that has already cost several hundred persons their jobs, finds at least a thousand more on the grid, and ultimately threatens thousands more whose only crimp is that they are liberals and have fought for years in the forefront of New Deal reform at home and anti-Fascism abroad.”

PM cannot reconcile this witch-hunt with its picture of Rooseveltian liberalism:

“In the midst of this extraordinary phenomenon, the Vice President of this country, with the approval of the President, wrote and delivered a ringing speech which identifies our war as the climax of 150 years of revolution – revolution for the people, by the people and for a quart of milk a day for the people’s children ...

“In the midst of this phenomenon, a liberal Attorney General of the country spoke at a dinner of New Deal leaders and put heart in them by saying that it was vital to the success of our war effort that they press on with their good works. That this same Attorney General, some weeks later, made a legalistic mistake and a political blunder (deportation order against Harry Bridges) has nothing to do with the fact that he was chosen by the President because of his record for liberalism.”

PM simply can’t explain the contradiction it sees:

“In the face of all these things, how can this witch hunt be explained? ... How can this be? How can men be persecuted for anti-Fascist ideas in a war against Fascism? We do not know the precise answer to this paradox.”

PM finally attempts an answer. It is really the insidious work of the enemies of the New Deal and Roosevelt “who have yet to make up their minds who is more important to their purpose to destroy: Adolf Hitler or Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

PM is not alone in its lament. The Nation, traditional oracle of American liberalism, also complains:

“The persistent red-baiting patterns of the investigations and the consistency with which only liberals are fired give strong color to the suspicion that officials high up in both agencies [FBI and Civil Service] are neither ignorant nor naive. It is time we discovered who is responsible for the idiotic and dangerous procedure by which men and women appointed to government jobs because they are known anti-fascists are forthwith dismissed – for the same reason.” (The Nation, June 20, 1942.)

Likewise the Social-Democratic New Leader puts on a scowl and even dares to shake a disapproving forefinger under the nose of the Commander-in-Chief himself:

“With the Department of Justice working overtime (ousting liberals), there are weighty scores against the Roosevelt administration. The White House has done little to force the removal of the isolationist Senator Reynolds from the chairmanship of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, and even less to remove Senator Walsh as head of the Naval Affairs Committee.

“The President has permitted Father Coughlin to go free. This was done on the basis of some agreement that the radio priest would keep silent and that clerical fascism would be halted in the United States. Roosevelt has kept his part of the bargain – the other side has not.” (New Leader, June 27.)

The New Leader apparently wants Roosevelt to strike bargains only with fascists who will live up to their part of the deal.

And the Stalinists join the wailing, to report that:

“... the one man in Congress who cast his vote for democracy on Jan. 6, 1939 in opposing the infamous embargo against Loyalist Spain is being blacklisted today by government agencies.

“John T. Bernard (ex-Representative from Minnesota) has been refused his right toiparticipate in this world war against fascism – because he is one of the nation’s most stalwart foes of fascism. It doesn’t make sense but it is true.” (Adam Lapin, in the Daily Worker, June 18.)

The Bridges “Mystery”

The dilemma of the liberals is most clearly exemplified in the case of Harry Bridges, CIO Longshoremen’s president, who is a model of Stalinist servility to the administration, acting as a “fingerman” for the employers and FBI against labor militants. When Attorney General Biddle, “chosen by the President because of his record of liberalism,” ordered the deportation of Bridges, the liberals found themselves in quite a stew.

PM’s editor Ralph Ingersoll struck on the matchless explanation that Biddle ordered Bridges’ deportation because Biddle is a Biddle.

“Our Attorney General is an honest, intelligent, educated, highly principled and liberal Biddle – then is it fair to ask what is a Biddle? Regretfully, we leave the answer to wiser heads than ours.” (PM, May 29.)

We search for an answer among “wiser heads” in the columns of The Nation. There I.F. Stone, writing on Biddle and the Facts in the June 20 issue, sadly reports that

“... the whole case suggests absolutism in decay, rather than democracy in action: the long persecution of a workers’ leader, the use of secret police for political purposes, the mobilization of witnesses from the dregs of society, the readiness of an upper-class liberal to serve as the tool of these forces.”

Is there a distinction between “upper class” and “lower class” liberals ? And isn’t Biddle as much the “tool” of Roosevelt, who named him to office, as of “absolutism in decay”? But naturally such questions are not answered by the wailing Nation editors.

Common Sense, the liberal monthly, decides in its July issue that Biddle is really but a seeker for knowledge:

“How could Mr. Biddle, probably the most liberal member of FDR’s cabinet, be accused of deliberately giving comfort to the enemy at home and abroad? Probably the answer is that Mr. Biddle wanted a test case before the Supreme Court on the question of whether Communists aim to overthrow the government by force.”

The Stalinists solve the Bridges deportation mystery in their usual neat fashion – there’s Munichmen “appeaser” work afoot:

“Instead of prosecuting and jailing the Fifth Column Coughlinites, Nazi agents and Ku Kluxers, Biddle is trying to deport an outstanding anti-fascist labor leader whose work is a pillar of strength to the war effort ... Biddle’s ‘force and violence’ defamations against the Communist Party are a notorious tactic of Hitler and Goebbels to divide and conquer.” (Daily Worker, May 31.)

But since Biddle is also Roosevelt’s flunkey, is Roosevelt also a Munichman? The mystery deepens and Adam Lapin, Washington correspondent, can only shake his head in the June 25 Daily Worker:

“There sure are some queer goings on in the Department of Justice under the Biddle regime.”

Terrible Doings in Washington

Pointing to the blows being struck at the social agencies of the New Deal – the CCC, NYA, WPA, etcetera – PM, on June 15, complains:

“There seems to be a very real danger that the New Deal is losing the domestic front while its attention is absorbed with the job of licking the Fascist foe without. Bit by bit the reactionary clique in Congress is nibbling away the New Deal bases that gave the common man a real stake in democracy and saved him from succumbing to Fascist demagogues. It makes one angry to see good New Dealers in Congress on the defensive, uttering apologies, for things that ought to make our Nation proud.”

Then there is the sad case of the Roosevelt-majority Supreme Court. Of one of its recent reactionary decisions, Samuel Grafton, the liberal columnist, says complainingly:

“I hope everyone has noticed the remarkable similarity between our ancient poll taxes and the recent Supreme Court ruling that it is all right for a municipality to charge a book peddler $10, or more, or less, for a license to sell books.

“Under the poll tax, as it exists in eight states, one must pay from $1 to umpty-ump dollars to exercise the right to vote. Under the new Supreme Court decision one must pay $10, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to exercise the right of free press.

“If anything were needed to show that the Supreme Court decision, a bare 5-to-4, put over by the perfectly shocking acquiescence of Mr. Justice Frankfurter, was a retrograde decision, that by it the Court speeded backward into a dark tunnel like a man with his foot caught in a roller-coaster, it is this comparison ... Are we going to let local government get up a kind of juridical Sears, Roebuck catalogue with prices on the various items in the Bill of Rights?”

By Gad, it’s enough to make one want to get up from one’s easy chair and do something about it, if only Grafton would tell us how to upset a Supreme Court decision short of revolution, and how to make a typical liberal, Felix Frankfurter, not act like a typical liberal in a capitalist government post. The June 27 Nation can only shake its head mournfully at the speedy demise of Roosevelt’s “liberal majority” on the Supreme Court:

“It is sad to see Stone, Frankfurter and Jackson taken in by the sweet company-union overtones of Byrnes in the wage-hour case.”

The liberal complaints pile up, against every cabinet officer, every government department, and the government war production agencies. The latter especially, dominated by the corporation dollar-a-year men, come in for some loud wails.

The Nation catalogues the “business-as-usual” set-up of the War Production Board and ends with the pitiable plaint:

“... Something is still ‘seriously wrong’ ... and it will not be corrected until Nelson, who is as fainthearted as the President about firing people, gets out the ax and keeps the promise he made when he became head of the WPB. When, Mr. Nelson, will the heads roll?” (The Nation, April 11.)

Yes, when? Evidently, Mr. Nelson was too busy that week to read the Nation. At any rate, the streets of Washington have been singularly free of rolling heads except those of liberals. I.F. Stone sadly concludes in The Nation of June 27:

“Carefully read and considered, the Truman report on the Guthrie case is the key to the continued setbacks suffered by ourselves and our allies. The arsenal of democracy, as the Guthrie case and the reactions to the report show, is still being operated with one eye on the war and the other on the convenience of big business ...

“The Guthrie report shows that, months after Pearl Harbor ... the big-business crowd is as powerfully entrenched under Nelson as it was under Knudsen.”

Stone ends with the happy suggestion that: “The solution of our problems lies in a more democratic direction of our industrial effort,” although he confesses dolefully, “the trend is the other way.”

And even Dorothy Thompson, who can say “war for democracy” in every language including the Sanskrit, complains that the government is giving $600,000,000 worth of new plants for synthetic rubber production to “finance enormously rich corporations to manufacture a product for which the people themselves are a certain market ... Why didn’t they put up their own money?” Why indeed? She finishes off with the profound suggestion:

“If we are going to survive this epoch we have got to do imaginative thinking. And stop letting people whose brains have grown dull on monopoly do it for us.”

The problem that is beginning to trouble the liberals more than anything else is the strange international company the “democratic” rulers are keeping these days.

Freda Kirchwey, editor of The Nation, had some strong words to say on this subject on January 3, after the State Department had “advised” the Free French to withdraw from St. Pierre and Miquelon islands in favor of Petain. “Mr. Hull Should Resign” was the title of her indignation piece:

“If the State Department, without consultation with the President or the Cabinet, has plunged the nation into its present humiliating position, its officials should be called into account as promptly as were the military leaders at Pearl Harbor. Without the least delay, the President should demand the resignation of the officials who on their own say-so betrayed the cause to which this country has been pledged not only by the terms of the Atlantic Charter but in many pronouncements by the President ... Why should men who have demonstrated their failure with such undeviating success be permitted to direct the policy of a great power committed to a life-and-death struggle?”

Hull’s Bedfellows Embarrass the Liberals

Why, indeed ? Miss Kirchwey can’t answer her own riddles but, evidently, President Roosevelt knows why, because Miss Kirchwey was compelled to report six months later in the June 20 Nation:

“But it must be admitted the future is still obscure. . . . The agreements made in Washington and London (with the Kremlin) are only a blue-print ... on the very day when the new coalition was proclaimed, Secretary Hull announced the resumption of shipments of food and other supplies from America to the Vichy government in North Africa.

“No promises, no pacts, no fine speeches by Welles or even (!) Wallace or Winant, can wipe out the demoralizing effect of the old diplomacy pursuing its old discredited maneuvers while the struggle against fascism reaches a climax of danger and effort.”

Samuel Grafton, who poses many questions well and knows none of the answers, stated:

“The best I can make of our current policy is that we insist the French people shall rise in revolution, but not against their government ... Hitler thinks the French resolution is more important than the French fleet, for he has kept his hands off the latter to avoid the former. We have reached the remarkable situation in which Hitler lets the French fleet alone, to sustain Vichy’s prestige, and we sustain Vichy’s prestige in order to save the fleet.

“One of us must be taking a hell of an ideological beating. Who are the French people to revolt against? Hitler doesn’t want them to know, either.” (New York Post, June 16.)

And echo calls in the Stalinist press:

“How long is Marshal Petain going to be allowed to make a sucker out of the United States?” (Daily Worker, June 13.)

The liberals are also taking “a hell of an ideological beating” about Finland as well. Here the Stalinist press gives the lead that the liberals follow. Adam Lapin goes in for some illuminating society reporting in the Daily Worker, June 9:

“Mannerheim’s envoy to Washington, Hjalmar Procope, spent his Sunday evening chatting and dining with high administration officials and with leading United States Senators ... As plans for a new Finnish-Nazi drive against the Soviet Union, personally mapped by Hitler, were under way, some of the officials who dined with Finnish Minister Procope included:

“Milo Perkins, Director of the War Economic Board; Paul V. McNutt, Chairman of the National Manpower Commission; Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold; Associate Justice Stanley Reed of the Supreme Court; Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley and Senator Joseph B. Guffey of Pennsylvania.

“... it seems about time they realized that Finland is Hitler’s ally, and that attending social evenings with Procope can hardly he construed as a friendly gesture toward the Soviet Union ...”

The concern of the liberals about the particular attitudes of the “democratic” rulers toward Vichy and Finland has begun to broaden out into a more generalized worry about where this whole “struggle against fascism” is heading. This is best expressed by J. Alvarez Del Vayo, Foreign Minister in the Spanish Loyalist Government, in one of a series of articles on World War III? in the June 20 Nation:

“The Petains and Francos were not merely tolerated. They were, and they yet are, considered by the ruling diplomacy a useful element of counterpoise in a Europe which tomorrow might swing too far to the left. That is why the diplomacy which today still directs foreign policy on the side of the Allies, when it has a choice, prefers an Otto of Hapsburg to an Austrian Socialist, an Eckhardt to a Hungarian democrat ... One cannot but maintain a certain reserve when considering the question what kind of peace would emerge if the present governments of the United Nations could vote secretly on the transcendental question of the organization of the world of tomorrow.”

How long? How is it possible? How can this be? How can we convince the masses that this is a “war for democracy against fascism” when liberals and anti-fascists are persecuted, when reactionaries and pro-fascists are handled with kid gloves, when Big Business is in the saddle and the old ruling diplomacy rides higher than ever? The liberals chant their woes and drench the wailing wall with their tears. But they have no answers and would not like the correct answers.

They Don’t Want to Tell the Truth

If it occurs to them that Mr. Hull does not resign because Roosevelt approves his policies, or that the monopolies are running this war because it is a capitalist war, or that high administration officials maintain a certain fraternal attitude toward Petain, Franco and Mannerheim because this is not and never was an ideological war between democracy and fascism, they do not voice their suspicions. God forbid! They don’t want to tell the truth about this war. They just want to save their own tender hides in the mounting reaction and continue with a straight face to be able to tell the masses that this is “our” war.

But it is becoming more difficult for the liberals to be convincing. As the intellectual spokesmen for the petty-bourgeoisie who are being crushed by the war-expedited monopoly control, the liberals are feeling the weight of reaction on their own backs. They look to the past with misgivings and to the future with rising fear. They keep shouting hoop-la for the “war against fascism” but they can scarcely conceal the feeling that somehow this “war for democracy” is writing the epitaph for bourgeois democracy in general and for its liberal exponents in particular.

Fortunately for the masses of the world, their fate does not depend on these hired mourners at the death-bed of bourgeois democracy. While the liberals wring their hands hopelessly at the spectacle of the death agony of capitalism, the revolutionary proletarian forces are building their cadres and mobilizing their strength throughout the world.

The oppressed of the earth will silence the whines of the liberals along with burying the rotting corpse of capitalism. For the masses, unlike the liberals, are seeking an answer to the question of their destiny, an answer that will sweep the globe – the socialist revolution.

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