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Dwight Macdonald

Sparks in the News

(16 December 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 93, 16 December 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Not Fit to Print

Those who read the midnight edition of the N.Y. Times for Friday, December 8, found on page 5 a story headlined, “ANTI-WAR SENTIMENT IN U.S. RISES, GALLUP SURVEY FINDS.” Readers of later editions found this news story still listed in the index, but, on turning to page 5, they discovered the story had been removed. Nor was it to be found elsewhere in the issue.

The Times is famous for its boast, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The anti-war story apparently was judged by the editors less fit to print than the following items, all of which appeared in the later editions on page 5: (1) Princess Hohenloe leaves England after losing her suit against Lord Rothermere; (2) the first death of a woman in the Royal Air Force is recorded; (3) a lengthy story headlined, “LONDON DOCKS HUM DESPITE NAZI MINES.”

“To Make the World Safe for Kaiserism”

The last war was fought to get rid of the Kaiser. This war – according to certain conservative statesmen now in the British cabinet who are talking of setting up again the imperial throne of the Hohenzollerns – is being fought to bring back the Kaiser. “Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose,” say the French, which means, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Or, American style, “No matter how you slice it, it’s always baloney.”

Perfidious Albion

The same British ruling class circles which now are fighting the war to restore the Hohenzollerns, not so long ago were the loyal allies of the Nazi regime. The Bank of England, for example, was for years notoriously friendly to the Nazis, taking the lead in extending to Hitler the vast credits he needed to complete his rearmament program. Then Hitler marched into Czech Slovakia, and the British ruling class suddenly “awoke” to the fact that his plans for expansion would inevitably come into conflict with the British Empire, and that the real threat to their class interests came from Nazi Germany and not from Stalinist Russia. There followed the momentous change of political orientation which culminated in the outbreak of the war.

The rupture between the Nazis and the bankers of London, however, is not as complete as you might think from listening to Winston Churchill’s speeches. According to a recent issue of Uncensored:

“Today, three months after the outbreak of war, the Bank of England is accepting German paper as collateral for loans to British banks. Since Britain still regards German credits as sound, it is quite possible that she may sell German paper to neutrals – for example, to Swiss bankers who have already made credit agreements with the Germans – and thus help promote a lively trade with Germany.”

It is an especially confusing twist, in this most perplexing of all wars, that the great New York banks refuse to accept German notes and securities as collateral for loans, and in fact have been trying desperately to liquidate the $50,000,000 worth of German paper they held at the outbreak of war. Thus the bankers of belligerent England show more confidence in and friendship towards the Hitler regime than do the bankers of “neutral” America.

Stalin’s Automata

Something I have thought a good deal about, especially in the last few months, is the effect on individuals like Browder and Molotov and other Stalinist mouthpieces of having to give expression continually to lies – and lies, furthermore, which any child can see are in contradiction to other lies they have uttered a few weeks earlier. It is notable that Stalin is no orator, that he rarely breaks his silence, at least not for publication. Shrewdly, he leaves to his puppets the spirit-destroying task of formally justifying in public the cynically opportunist twists of “the general line.”

The recent public utterances of Molotov and Browder would make one ashamed of the human species – were it not clear that such politicians by now can hardly be considered men. A century ago a French nobleman named De Custine travelled widely in Czarist Russia and wrote a perceptive book about it. His description of “the human parts of the grand machine of state” applies also to their successors of present-day Russia.

“Such parts,” writes De Custine, “acting under an influence which is not in themselves, like the wheel-work of a clock, are called men in Russia! The sight of these voluntary automata inspires me with a kind of fear: there is something supernatural in an individual reduced to the state of a mere machine. If, in lands where the mechanical arts flourish, wood and metal seem ‘almost human’, under despotisms, human beings seem to become as instruments of wood. We ask ourselves what can have become of their superfluity of thought? And we feel ill at ease to think of the pressure that must have been exerted on intellectual creatures before they could have been reduced to mere things.”

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