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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(8 August 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 57, 8 August 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Old Misleader

Some one remarked to me the other day that for a long time he had thought the tone which Bolshevist revolutionaries used towards the reformists was much too sharp and melodramatic. Recently, however, he has come to see that every epithet, every “hangman of the working class!”, every “lackey of capitalism!” was and is justified, that it would be almost impossible to paint in too black colors the treachery and cowardice of groups like the Social Democratic Federation. The closer American capitalism draws to its supreme crisis of war and fascism, the more implacably anti-revolutionary become the reformists. The working of this process can be seen easily if one has followed, as I have, the last year of the S.D.P. organ, The New Leader. As the war draws near, this journal has taken on an ever-increasing similarity to the jingoistic, chauvinist “socialist” sheets of the Europe of 1914. The one difference is all in their favor: they at least waited until the war had actually broken out before dropping the “socialist” mask and appearing frankly as recruiting agents for the bourgeois war machines.

But The Old Misleader isn’t waiting for M-Day to dish out what Engels was vulgar enough to call “the old crap.” Week after week, its front page is black with scare heads about the inroads that fascism is making in Peru and the heroic defense measures of brave little Poland, the current workers’ fatherland. This week’s glad tidings for the American working class is the front-page head: POLISH CAVALRY CAPABLE OF ROUTING MOTORIZED NAZIS.

F.D.R. Removes the Fig Leaf

When it comes to domestic news, The Old Misleader is, just now, in a really pathetic position, as are its comrades in arms, The Nation, The Daily Worker, and The CIO News. It is getting increasingly harder to kid the masses about their friend in the White House when he publicly congratulates Congress on removing the prevailing-wage provision from this year’s WPA act, when he denounces the WPA strikers and looses his G-men on them, and when he appoints to head the Social Security Board the quasi-fascist machine politician Paul McNutt.

And so a hasty glance at The Old Misleader fails to indicate there’s a WPA strike on at all. Its issue of July 15, at the height of the whole business, relegates the strike to less than a column on page two. (This story, incidentally, is a masterpiece of falsification. By carefully mixing up two entirely separate sections of the WPA bill – the one nullifying the prevailing wage clause, and the one forbidding regional differences in wage rates – the author is able to write: “Although the Administration opposed abolition of the differentials, the President has announced that his Administration will attempt to carry out the new provisions “of the law.” Actually, of course, the President favors the abolition of the first (or prevailing wage) “differential,” and is opposed only to the abolition of the regional wage differential.

The only other reference in the whole eight pages to the ticklish subject is a cut-and-dried little notice in a corner of page eight, headed in small type: “S.D.F. Scores WPA Cuts.”

The banner headline on page one is: ANTI-AXIS FORCES ANGERED BY U.S. ‘NEUTRALITY,’ with the subhead, amazing even in this cloud-cuckoo land: OLDER GERMANS, EMBITTERED BY CONGRESS ACTION, TURN TO HITLER. It seems that Jack Sandford, the Misleader’s enterprising correspondent in France, performed a remarkable journalistic feat. As soon as he received the news that Congress had refused to revise the Neutrality Act, he at once took a Gallup Poll of the eighty million citizens of Germany to see how they felt about it. He is, naturally, somewhat excited about his findings, as, evidently, were the editors. “The psychological effects,” he hints darkly, “may be incalculable.” And then for the real news scoop: “I learn already that it has thrown masses of the elder generation of neutral Germans into the Nazi camp.” That hitherto unchallenged mass psychoanalyst, Walter Duranty, had better look to his laurels!

Those Terrible Trotskyites!

On this same front page there is another story which deserves a few words: TROTSKYITE ‘GUARDS’ DRIVE AIDS COUGHLIN. This is a very snooty little piece, very superior indeed – “the tiny Socialist Workers Party,” “the obscure Trotskyite newspaper, The Socialist Appeal,” etc. Specifically, the Misleader is sore because Comrade Milton’s proposal that his local of the ILGWU form a Workers Anti-Fascist Defense Guard gave Father Coughlin a chance to attack the ILGWU and to wound the tender sensibilities of that shrinking violet, David Dubinsky.

When it comes to more general criticism, the usual Stalinist objections are raised. (It is interesting how indistinguishable on all major matters are the lines of the S.D.F. and the C.P.) Such guards “provoke violence.” They are “illegal.” There is “strong public opinion against private armies.” And, above all, what’s wrong with the police as protection for workers’ meetings against the Coughlinites?

All of these arguments, except the one about illegality (which is news to me), would apply to any strike. But the workers would be foolish to listen to any such line. Despite the danger of provoking violence, despite the undoubtedly strong public opinion against the use of force by pickets, and despite the splendid protection offered by the forces of law and order, the strikers must nevertheless, however reluctantly and with however heavy hearts, wreak violence on the persons of any scabs in the neighborhood. Any one who has been on a picket line knows this, and any one who has seen LaGuardia’s cops “protecting” anti-fascist meetings or has had a glimpse of the Social Justice goon squad in action knows why Workers Guards are necessary.

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