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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(11 April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 23, 11 April 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In discussing Guerin’s book in this column two weeks ago, I made some remarks on an article in Harper’s by Gunther Reimann, Doing Business in Germany. This article seemed to me to be trying to prove the well-worn thesis of bourgeois journalism: the business man as well as the workers gets it in the neck under Hitler. Mr. Reimann, however, writes in and protests that I “misunderstood and misinterpreted” his article.

“In general, you indicate that I do not think fascism is a class phenomenon,” he writes. “I want to state that I regard fascism as the deepest stage of capitalist decay and a class phenomenon, and that I did not say anything contrary to this opinion in that article. The decay of capitalism produces new features which have to be studied and one of these features is the destruction of the sanctity of private property and private property rights by fascism.”

I am glad Mr. Reimann is not deceived as to the nature of fascism, and I agree that its violation of private property rights is something worth much attention. But I must still maintain that an article devoted only to this point and printed in a magazine like Harper’s gives the reader who is not familiar with Mr. Reimann’s political stand in general (as I was not) the impression that he is trying to demonstrate the anti-capitalist nature of fascism. Especially when its concluding sentence is: “To Germany’s business men, harassed by the Party, dogged by State Commissars at every move, insecure, worried about present and future, the Nazi ‘economists’ can only toss the slogan ‘Live Dangerously!’”

I am glad to be able to clear up Mr. Reimann’s position on fascism. I only wish he had made it equally clear in the pages of Harper’s.

France and the Refugees

The best news account I have read on one of the most shocking and scandalous horror stories of all time, is the recent story in Time on France’s treatment of the 450,000 Spanish refugees who fled over the Catalan border a month ago. After pointing out that the United States has offered to take in just 352 of the 450,000 and the Soviet Union has opened its gates to “only a few big Loyalist leaders” – the story gets down to the meat – and very maggoty meat it is, too. I think the details are worth quoting:

“Stuck with the refugees, French authorities adopted methods calculated to help ‘persuade’ them that they would be better off almost anywhere else. Typical rations were one loaf of bread for six men, a sack of rice for 400 men. Sanitation has been non-existent. Open latrines have been dug in the camp sand and all modesty about nature’s functions has long ago disappeared.

“The largest camps are situated on a treeless sandy beach just North of the Spanish border near Argeles-sur-Mer and St. Cyprien. They are enclosed by barbed wire, guarded every 20 feet by a Senegalese soldier. Inside the wire the camp’s are like some fantastically huge hobo jungle. Only a few refugees have roofs over their heads; the great majority dig holes in the sand and cover themselves with dirty sheets, blankets or coats. Many sleep in the open, rain or shine. Icy sea winds blow the sands continually. Most of the refugees have developed conjunctivitis. Fuel in the large camps is scarce. Cooking is done exclusively in tin cans. At one camp men and women at first stood in line all day waiting to get a little water from a small faucet. At another the only water available – and it is brackish – is obtained from pumps driven into the sand. All the water is bad and it is estimated that 60% of the refugees – or 250,000 – have dysentery.

“The refugees have been classified as 220,000 militiamen, 40,000 able-bodied civilian men, 10,000 wounded, 180,000 women and children. Hospital facilities are limited and primitive. Many men with weeks-old wounds covered by filthy dressings are still unattended ... The refugees have become a danger to the general health of adjacent communities ... Marseilles gangsters, always in need of women for the white-slave traffic which supplies Africa and South American countries with prostitutes, were reported circulating in the camps looking for new personnel.”

Time adds (1) “Although amply warned of the huge human tide approaching, the French Government made few advance arrangements to receive the refugees.” (2) “The chances are that France in the end will not be out one sou. The daily $185,000 bill can be met for a long time by expropriating the treasures the Loyalists deposited and shipped to France months ago.”


But let it not be thought the refugees huddled in their holes on the beaches of St. Cyprien are altogether friendless. The North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy still exists, and the other day I received tangible proof of this: a large formal invitation, in the most elegant type faces, requesting the pleasure of my company at a dinner at the Hotel Commodore “to welcome Vincent Sheean, who has just returned from Spain.” A battery of “Distinguished Foreign Correspondents and Writers,” including Dorothy Parker, would lead a discussion on “THE SPANISH CONFLICT AND ITS INTERNATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE.” The roster of Patrons and Patronesses took four impressive columns. Let the refugees take heart! They have some very high-class friends – so powerful and respectable, indeed, that it seems hardly possible, with such support, that the Spanish Republic is now at its last gasp. But let the refugees not be downcast so long as their cause is the cause of Mr. Franklin P. Adams and Miss Ilka Chase and Mr. Malcolm Cowley and Mrs. Muriel Draper and the Hon. and Mrs. Stanley M. Isaacs and Mr. Rockwell Kent and Miss Freda Kirchwey and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Goddard Leach and Dr. Max Lerner and Bishop Francis J. McConnell and Dr. Thomas Mann and Mr. Frederick March and Col. William Jay Schieffelin and Miss Sylvia Sidney and Mr. George Soule and Mr. Franchot Tone and Mr. Oswald Garrison Villard. “R.S.V.P.” read the invitation but I didn’t.

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