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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

Students and the War Threat

(26 April 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 17, 26 April 1948, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

“Yes, I was opposed to the war. I am perfectly willing, on that account, to be branded as a disloyalist, and if it is a crime under the American law punishable by imprisonment for being opposed to human bloodshed, I am perfectly willing to be clothed in the stripes of a convict and to end my days in a prison cell.”

That is the voice of Eugene V. Debs addressing the jury of the federal court which sentenced him to prison in 1918 for opposing World War I.

Those words, spoken thirty years ago in a Cleveland courtroom, ring with an ardor and conviction which must seem naive to many in our age of cynicism and broken wills.

For it is true that, given the relative isolation of the revolutionary socialist movement, perspectives capable of setting afire the imagination of youth, and especially of student youth, seem to have historical but not actual significance.

Student movements have customarily been hotbeds of progressive thought. The tradition is a long and honorable one. Alexander Herzen, the inspirer of Russian populism, was first sent into exile while he was yet a student. Thousands were to follow him. In Germany the Young Hegelians of the 1830’s, among whom Marx shaped his thinking, were tempered in the same fires. Hardly a temple of orthodox thought was left standing when they got through. Of necessity developing later, the student bodies of colonial countries have long since discharged their debts to mankind. Among the first were students of China, who in the early 1920’s initiated a surge of colonial unrest which has not yet subsided.

The U.S. Student Movement

Marxist ideas (as reviewed in the light of the Russian revolution) first made headway on American campuses during the 1930’s as a result of the depression. Though they had a Stalinist caste which was later to be bled off into the famous “fight against war and fascism,” they were not the gross distortions which the CP currently peddles.

Those were the days when students of the University of Pittsburgh picketed their commencement exercises in protest against General MacArthur’s speaking; when hundreds of Oxford students pledged never to support any war in which England fought; and when the late Frank Kingdom, then president of Newark University, used to lead the student body in picket lines on occasion just to keep the edge on its social consciousness.

But who would think of writing a Revolt on the Campus today? Generally speaking, there is no spirit of revolt on the campus. There is a malaise. It has its origin in the still sinewy U.S. economy, the absence of a serious number of war casualties, the lack of war damage, the social fire insurance provided by the GI Bill, the government war propaganda, Stalinism – and the relative weakness of revolutionary forces who could pose an alternative to Washington and Moscow. But there is no sharply oriented opposition.

Wallace’s Foreign Policy

There is an anti-war sentiment on the American campus. Its most articulate and staunch elements are being corralled by the Wallace movement – which is to say, by the CPers, the AYD (American Youth for Democracy) crowd, the PCA (Progressive Citizens of America) – all of whom are subordinating whatever independent activity they may have been carrying on to the Wallace campaign. Since Wallace is the only candidate even advocating a peace program the movement is bound to grow. An elemental task for revolutionary socialists is to win away from the Stalinists such students as have been attracted by their pseudo-peace program.

Wallace’s program resembles the “a” blot used in the Rohrschach tests – everyone can see in it what he will.

The first and foremost fact about Wallace’s program, however, is that his foreign policy is that of Russia. He can fiddle with other parts of his program pretty much as he wishes, but once he tampers with his current foreign policy the Communist Party, which created him out of New Deal mud and gave him his present ideology, will dump him with scant ceremony.

Whatever Wallace’s subjective intentions maybe his present program is designed to weaken U.S. imperialism without similarly weakening Russian imperialism. He does not address the same demands to Russia in regard to the draft, military expenditures, domination of peoples, civil liberties, and interference in the domestic affairs of other countries that he can, with reason, address to the United States.

The CP hopes to utilize the “peace” demagogy in order to recruit members for the time when the internal situation in the U.S. permits it to engage in such activities as we have been witness to in France – all of which have had little to do with the interests of the French worker but a great deal to do with Russian foreign policy. In the shorter term it hopes to stave off war for a period by the pressure exercised by Wallace supporters.

Wallace’s Domestic Program

The rest of Wallace’s program is the come-on. It serves the same purpose as the free chinaware at the Thursday night class B movie.

This is Wallace: the wrathful man who is opposed to the use of the atom bomb – and the innocent who helped create it. The crusader against Jim Crow – and the coward who didn’t lift his little finger against it when he was in office. The apostle of the era of abundance – and the great intellect who thought of nothing else but plowing under crops during the depression. The defender of democratic practices – and the man who NOW calls for a convention to choose him presidential candidate and to ratify his platform. The enemy of imperialism – and the scoundrel who wants to make the UN work, that is, guarantee the imperialist status quo. The friend of Palestine – and the hypocrite who, when the need was greatest, raised no campaign for the Jews of Europe. The friend of labor – and ... just what is his labor record?

Wallace is not a new beginning. He is the end product of post-war Communist Party politics. Support for him only cements the hold of Stalinism upon the world.

The task for those among the country’s students who take ideas seriously is, in the spirit of the quotation with which we began this column, to aid in creating an independent party of the working class which is equally opposed to the war plans of Washington and Moscow, and to bring to such a party the full measure of their energy, their courage, and their intelligence.

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