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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(18 April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 25, 18 April 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Where Is Walter Duranty?

Those who have been struggling with Walter Duranty’s recent dispatches in the N.Y. Times are beginning to ask themselves where these remarkable productions are coming from. Myself, I should not be surprised if Walter is writing from a small room in the Bronx, with a bottle of whiskey within easy reach. Certainly, there is no need for him to be in Moscow to turn out these garrulous and banal “think pieces” on what he conceives to be the state of mind of the 170,000,000 inhabitants of the Soviet Union. The density of facts per agate line, never very high in Duranty’s stuff these days, is now the thinnest in journalistic history. This sort of reporting used to come from Riga, in the days before the Soviets became respectable. But the Bronx would do just as well.

Social Justice, à la Scab

In the New Leader for March 11 a bit of information appeared which should be useful to all who come up against Coughlinites in the trade union movement. I give it in full:

“DETROIT – Father Coughlin’s Social Justice, anti-Semitic, anti-labor publication of the fascist priest, has been put on the unfair list by the Michigan Federation of Labor because it is printed in a scab shop.”

Spontaneity Again

Comrade John Travis Writes in from Lynn, Mass., to clarify the question of spontaneity in revolutionary tactics, which was raised by a Luxemburgite in this column several weeks ago. I quote part of his interesting letter:

“Real social revolutionary action may involve spontaneous over-boiling of the masses. Nevertheless, the revolutionary vanguard that will lead the social revolution (we hope) will have 1ong been preparing for just such an explosion of the masses. They will at that time strive to direct the angry explosions of the masses into a powerful and effective revolutionary attack upon the class enemy and the capitalist system. Thus real social revolutionary action involves both spontaneity and preparation: the spontaneous explosion of the masses brought into control, and led by a revolutionary vanguard with a prepared revolutionary program, strategy and tactic.”

Mr. Mumford Sees the Light

The N.Y. Times had occasion recently to rebuke the Hollywood producers, of all people, for lack of patriotism. The Times pointed out indignantly that in such recent films as Jesse James and Stagecoach, the “bad men” of Western history are shown to have been Robin

Hoods waging heroic war against the wicked bankers and land-grabbing railroad builders.

“The thing makes good melodrama,” conceded the Times, “but it is not very effective propaganda for democracy. If the American people today are to have their hearts set aglow for Americanism and the American Way, it does not help matters to show that America’s great West was built up by pirates and assassins operating under railway charters from the government.”

The Times then devotes several lengthy paragraphs, which I omit, to demonstrating that the railroad builders were not pirates and assassins because where would we be without railroads?

“Democracy and Americanism,” it concludes, “have won many new converts in recent years, one might almost say recent months. But not all of them have succeeded in ridding themselves of old ideas and old phrases from the time when they were much less certain about the virtues of American democracy ... much more consistent is a writer like Lewis Mumford. Having rallied to the cause of democracy against the fascist menace, Mr. Mumford has the courage to discard the doctrine that America was taken into the World War by the Morgans and the munitions makers. Mr. Mumford now calls this version a fable.”

The Times doesn’t have the face to add the courageous Mr. Mumford’s final conclusion on the last War: “What was wrong was not that we sought to preserve democracy; what alone was wrong was that we failed.”

Time was when intellectuals like Mumford were applying their talents to debunking American history. But when New Republic liberals go star-spangled, they do a thorough job of it. It is to Hollywood, apparently, that in future we must look for a realistic interpretation of our national past.

Add: Defense of Reimann

Last week I printed Gunther Reimann’s protest that I had misinterpreted his article, Doing Business in Nazi Germany. And now Peter Tor writes in, also to protest that

“Reimann is not unaware of the intimate relationship between the Nazi bureaucracy and the capitalist class ... His bitter attack, a few months ago, on the People’s Front as a method of fighting fascism is an indication of his opinion ... On the whole, his book, Germany: World Empire or World Revolution, is not only one of the most stimulating analyses of Nazism, but one that can take its place beside Guerin’s, as a worthy addition to a revolutionist’s library.”

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