Shoot The Works

September 24, 1939

by Heywood Broun | August 23, 2013

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

On August 23, 1939, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin and German dictator Adolf Hitler signed into existence Molotov-Ribbontrop Pact, a non-agression treaty between the two nations. The pact lasted less than two years, and was destroyed when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. This piece, which was originally published in The New Republic on September 24, 1939, argues that those who feel fascism has been strengthened by Soviet action should fight all the harder for the maintenance and extension of democracy in America.

Many things undoubtedly have been changed by the pact between Russia and the Reich. The whole course of world history may be affected. Hitler and Stalin may fight over the remains of Europe or divide it up in friendly fashion. There could be a common ideology between the dictators, although it is an exaggeration to say that already the difference exists in catchwords alone.

The chances of change both in physical fact and in world philosophy as well are profound. But I think it is unwise to be too cocksure about the result of Stalin's strategy, or lack of it, until there has been time for digestion. And though the current of history seems to have shifted for the worse, in my estimation, there remain in America some not very good eddies which retain their original character.

I am a little startled to find that Westbrook Pegler is under the impression that he had some sort of beat upon the matter. From his present chortling, one might think that he was the one to deliver Lepke to the G-men. I think it will be premature if the public follows his coy suggestion and immediately awards a halo to him. There are still some marked differences between the author of "Fair Enough" and the Little Flower.

Nor do I understand at all by what process Stalin's diplomacy has suddenly justified the assertion of Ben Stolberg that he, Benjamin, is a friend of labor. To my mind Fish remains Ham and John Nance Garner is still an old man with one foot in Uvalde.

Most curious of all is the drive of the celebrants who insist that now is the time to smash labor unions in America. There are those who set up finks and strikebreakers as brave men whose whole motivation was to thwart the move for appeasement between Berlin and Moscow.

I see things from precisely the opposite angle. Those who feel that fascism has been strengthened by Soviet action should fight all the harder for the maintenance and extension of democracy in America. Surely no logical answer will be made to the Russian action by those who insist that there should now be a non-aggression pact, if not a military alliance between liberals and Herbert Hoover. Nothing has happened that in any way touches the gospel of trade unionism and the case for the New Deal is strengthened rather than weakened because it will be even sillier now than it was before to shout that Roosevelt is the conscious or unconscious agent of communism.

Leaders of the left wing have laid themselves open to criticism because of the futility of the explanatory matter which they have put forth in regard to the pact. It is possible that a case can be made for Russia's choice of partners, but surely no coherent one is being set forth.

For all that, American Communists should not be denied the credit, which is due to them for the effective work, which they did in the case of Mooney, the Scottsboro defendants and in many other instances of legal injustice. And again I think that even the sharpest critic in the liberal and progressive ranks ought to admit that American Communists have done much to wake the public conscience to the facts of unemployment, the plight of sharecroppers and other defects in the functioning of our democracy.

No one need blush or apologize if he has willingly and eagerly been on the same side as radicals in causes which were just. Some absurd formulas might be drawn if the rule were to prevail that a liberal must choose his side in every public question by merely saying that he is against anything the Communists favor regardless of the merits of the controversy. Such a procedure would reduce the progressive to the estate of the fanatic who insisted that he wished to contract a venereal disease because he understood it was being fought editorially by The Chicago Tribune.

And it is well to remember that radical thought neither began nor ends with Josef Stalin. There is nothing novel in suggesting that now is an excellent time for us to look into the progressive and radical roots which are part of our own heritage. The weakness of communism has always been in its basic dependence upon leadership which was far away and unfamiliar with American conditions.

The tie between left-wingers here and the authorities in Russia was probably pretty thin as far as detail went. Much was done here without any consultation whatsoever. But a tether rope remained and the sudden shift in the line as reflected in the pact must have come with an unexpected jerk to native party leaders. Their very floundering seems to show that they were neither tipped off in advance nor consulted as to what effect the move would have upon progressive and radical opinion here.

Earl Browder has testified that party members are subject to expulsion if they criticize this diplomatic coup of the Soviet Republic. Apparently American Communists are doing their gulping, if any, behind closed doors and officially putting as good a face as possible upon the matter. Defections, however, are rampant among so-called sympathizers. But the net result of this split may be very disappointing to the c'hortlers. For three or four years anybody, of a conservative trend, whose play or book or poem was criticized attributed the bad notices to "the malice of the fellow travelers."


There were some who held that Stalin received a clipsheet of the newspapers and magazines of the United States at least once a week and maybe every morning. And, ac- cording to the legend, he would look these over and call up party headquarters in New York with specific instructions as to which books and comedies and musicals were to be praised and which condemned by his agents in Manhattan.

For instance, Mr. Stalin might say, "Morrie Ryskind had a piece in The Nation last week which I found most objectionable. Please see that he gets a smearing at the hands of all the fellow-traveling critics."

I am of the opinion that the legend may now evaporate. George Kaufman once told the story of a man who was socially unpopular and very unhappy about it. When his best friends told him he had dandruff he was delighted. He felt that this fact explained everything. Purchasing the proper remedy he soon cured the dandruff, but to his horror he was just as unpopular as ever.

And it is my notion that even though Stalin has signed a pact with Hitler, many of the Red-baiters have the same spiritual dandruff as afflicted them before. Not all the leopards have changed their spots.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//article/114443/not-all-leopards