Wanted: A Faith to Fight For
A COUPLE of years ago, I fell a good deal like the proverbial Frenchwoman who was surprised to discover that no one was right absolutely all the time except herself.
I was, like many thousands of my years and bent, that curious hybrid, a Marxist Liberal. Certainly it would never have occurred to me to join the Communist Party. Never did I consider myself a fellow traveler, or even an active Communist sympathizer. Indeed, nothing seemed more vicious than the charge of Communism directed against those who thought as I did. But for all that, Marxism, or the brand of Marxism which filters down through a liberal education, the kind which is bandied about after the second cocktail, dominated my political thinking. It was the supreme logic of Marxism which made everything in contemporary history so luminously clear to me, and, I think, to thousands of others of my kind. That is one of the beauties of Marxism, even the diluted Marxism which characterizes the thinking of the Marxist Liberal. For it is a magic touchstone, a bright and lovely mirror which reflects the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It does your thinking for you.
It is silly to underestimate the appeal of Marxism to young Americans with eyes to see and with hearts to feel in the last ten depression years. Hundreds of thousands of intelligent people in this country have had a certain secret, almost unconscious sympathy with the Marxist idea, many thousands more than ever thought of carrying a C.P. card, more than seven Dies Committees with seven mops could sweep up in a hundred years. Confronted with the spectacle of bread lines in every city while wheat rotted on thousands of acres, with the supreme illogic of wholesale hunger in the richest country in the world, these people sought for an alternative. I do not think, and I never shall, that this search was criminal, that it was ’un-American,’that it was cowardly and unpatriotic, a danger to home and to religion. Indeed, the real cowardice and un-Americanism still seem to me to be in those who could look upon the America of 1933 and fail to look for an alternative; who could regard the conditions of that time with equanimity and who would welcome with satisfaction a return to the way of life which brought on those conditions. Be that as it may, many people, and especially many young people, sought the alternative, and found it, if not in Communism, at least in an approximation of Marxism. They became ‘radicals/ although many were ashamed to confess, even to themselves, their radicalism, although their leftishness may have led them no further than an occasional faux pas at a Republican table and a perhaps furtive vote for Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.
And how infinitely comforting this do-nothing radicalism, this ruddy glow of the dining room and the cocktail party, has been. Although he may lack something of the evangelical fervor, the early Christian-martyr spirit of the bredin-the-bone, Stalin-worshiping Communist, the Marxist Liberal has known the pleasures of righteous conviction, of doubts stilled, of certainty in an uncertain world.
There are few questions he cannot answer to his own satisfaction. Men starve in an abundant world because goods are produced for private profit rather than public good, a system utterly illogical when machines are everywhere producing more things with fewer men to work them. Because the capitalist must find markets for his goods, because he must find new areas for investments and exploitation when his own country is exploited to the limit, a deadly competition between nations ensues. War is the result, the mass murder of the many to appease the greedy few. Fascism—and this, to the Marxist Liberal, was an article of faith to which he blindly subscribed at least up to the end of August 1939 — is but the invention of the wily capitalist, a means of reducing the masses to slavery to the glorious end of greater profits. Unemployment, Fascism, war, the triple terrors of the modern world, all are to be explained glibly and easily by the Marxist Liberal, who knows with a supreme faith that all three, together wuth such lesser evils as crime, bad housing, illiteracy, race prejudice, and perhaps astigmatism and ingrowing toenails, will disappear when production for use is substituted for production for profit.
Let us glance at the world of the last few years through the starry eyes of the Marxist Liberal. Within the United States, his position was clear; few doubts on any score assailed him. Anyone who leveled criticism, from whatever source, at a trade union, and especially at a CIO union, was per se a reactionary, a capitalist or a tool of the capitalists. Anyone who attacked Russia or the Communist Party was a Red-baiter, a wielder of rubber hoses, a little Ilitler. Republicans, anti-New Dealers, were cither callous or just plain stupid. The New Deal was conceived in a generous spirit, although it didn’t go far enough. The newspapers were for the most part little more than propaganda sheets, the media of the distorting propaganda of the rich, and the servants of the rich. They were owned by the rich in the first place, and their editorial policies were controlled by advertisers. In general, capitalism was the source of all evil, and should be done away with as soon as possible, though preferably without any bloodshed or unpleasantness. It was all very simple, fitting together as neatly as a child’s picture puzzle.
The world situation was, in its broad outlines, equally simple. The great powers were, like Caesar’s Gaul, divided into three parts. There were the rich, sated powers, their capitalist gluttony satisfied by their great possessions, the capitalists provided with sufficient opportunity for the exploitation of their fellow men. These were, of course, Great Britain, France, and the United States. Then there were the Fascist powders, the slave states, lusting for power, eager to exploit as richly and profitably as the great empires, hungry for a slice of the evil capitalist pie: Germany, Italy, Japan. Certainly of these two great groups the first was the lesser evil; but there was one power and one power only with the courage, the morality, the virtue, to oppose aggression and injustice with deeds, not merely words — and that was the Soviet Union,
To the Marxist Liberal the foreign policy of Russia, from the annexation of Manchuria right up to the end of August 1939, shone like a good deed in a naughty world. While the Britishdominated League of Nations condoned feebly, the Soviet Union protested the rape of Manchuria vigorously. It continued sanctions against Italy long after the sanctions of the other powers had become a farce. It helped China with goods and men while the other powers tsk-tsked and sat around twiddling their thumbs. It was ready (apparently) to come to the aid of beleaguered Czechoslovakia until France and England backed down at Munich and Chamberlain simpered about ‘ peace in our time.’ Through it all, the speeches of Litvinov, divested of the fiddle-faddle of professional diplomacy, sounded an inspiring counterpoint, with his defense of the rights of small nations, his offers to cease all armaments manufacture whenever the powers should agree.
To be sure, disquieting rumors came out of Russia itself in these years. There was the famine of 1932-1933, but this was undoubtedly largely the invention of capitalist propaganda, and whoever did starve probably deserved to starve. There were the purges, but obviously the purgees were guilty; any socialist state would be the object of capitalist sabotage. Meanwhile there were the lovely statistics, the mounting production, the creches, million-copy editions of books, free theatres, the ‘most democratic constitution in the world.’ To the Marxist Liberal the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was the rock of ages, the one sure foothold in the slithery swamp of a disintegrating world.
The outlines of the future were dim around the edges, perhaps, but in the main they were clear enough. A war was of course on the way, a world war of unprecedented dimensions and unmitigated horror. The hungry Fascists — Germany, Italy, and Japan — would be lined up against the bloated capitalists — England, France, and a little later the United States, finally forced to fight against the spreading poison of Fascism. And of course the Soviet Union would be right in there supplying the most effective antitoxin. By the war’s end, the beautiful truth of socialism would be known and practised all over the world.
Today the Marxist Liberal of yore feels a little like the college senior who comes unexpectedly on the diary he wrote when he was thirteen, filled with the embarrassing inanities of adolescence. He has only to recall the RussoGerman alliance or Finland or the Baltic States or the ideological trapeze act. of the United States Communist Party to regret his intellectual love affair with Soviet Russia. He is a little like a man suffering from a toothache, hay fever, or unrequited love: his pain is funny to everyone but himself. Yet in a larger sense his pain is not so altogether funny.
The Colonel Blimps of America, particularly in the last few months, have been grumbling over their cigars and coffee about the flabbiness, the cowardliness, the lack of patriotism of the nation’s youth. And not only the Colonel Blimps either, for the sincere and intelligent idealists have been startled by the apparent indifference of young men in the face of the creeping menace of Fascism. There is good reason for their alarm. As this is written, there is no more martial spirit — the spirit that made our raw, untrained army a great army in the last war, and which, indeed, has made the German army a great army in this one — in the men who will have to fight if we go to war than there is in a turtle. We are building an army great in numbers. Men are joining that army. Some are joining it because they haven’t got. a job, or because they don’t like the job they’ve got. Most are joining it because they have to. In proportion to the total number of Americans of military age, very few men are joining the army because they want to fight the Fascists, or in the expectation that they will fight the Fascists.
The American people, and among them the men who will make up the American army, have come to believe in a comfortably bloodless war, a war of blockade, a war of the assembly lines. It was just such a war that the French and the English believed in before a few weeks in the spring of 1940 proved how wrong they were.
It is not a pretty thing to ponder — that in the spring of 1941 the leaders of American thought, from the President on down, can shake oratorical or editorial fists at the aggressors to their hearts’ content, can intimate repeatedly that the defeat of the Axis is essential to American safety, but can never so much as breathe that some American boy might get hurt in the process.
Some indication of the root cause of which this bloodlessly bellicose doubletalk is a symptom may be found, perhaps, in the dissection of the Marxist Liberal mind above. I do not mean to imply that most of the young men of America are conscious or even unconscious Marxists. I do mean that they are searching for a faith, for something to believe in, to live for and die for. That some have searched in such unlikely places as the Soviet Union does not make their search any the less serious. The young men of Germany today have found such a faith; however vicious we on the outside know it to be, to them it remains something for which they would gladly die. The Americans who went abroad to fight in 1917 had such a faith. The Americans of today have not.
I do not think this means that tlie American men of today arc flabby and decadent, enervated by too many automobiles, too many movies, too much gin, or too much politics. If this country were invaded tomorrow it would fight to the last man, with baseball bats and fists, if necessary. But the policy of this country is not confined to defense against invasion. We are now committed to the defeat of the Axis powers, and if this can be done by lambasting them oratorically and building supplies for Britain, it will be a military miracle indeed.
To fight the war which sooner or later we shall be called on to fight we need a crusading faith, the kind that inspired the soldiers of 1917, setting forth to war to make the world safe for democracy. We haven’t got it; certainly the men who will do the fighting haven’t got it.
Aou will not give it to them by rephrasing the battle cries of 1917. It. is not that democracy — the kind of democracy that was written into the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights — has become meaningless to them; if anything, it means more than it ever did before. It is that, to a generation which for the most part has been brought up to think that the silliest mistake the United States ever made was our entrance into the last war, the kind of democracy we fought to make the world safe for leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. A kind of democracy that leaves somewhere between nine and sixteen million unemployed for ten years in the richest nation on earth hardly seems worth imposing on the rest of the world. The things America fought for two decades ago gave her a great army. They will not give her a great army today.
The disillusioned cocktail-party Marxist is a more ludicrous than pathetic figure. The members of the American Youth Congress ought undoubtedly to be spanked. But they are a symptom of a serious disease, a disease which shows itself more generally in the curious apathy of most American young men in the face of the most desperate crisis the country has ever known. The disease from which these young men suffer is this: they have not found a faith.
A great army is an army of fanatics, an army of men with a dream. Germany has a great army, an army of soldiers who dream of a world ruled by uniformed young men with blond hair.
Give the soldiers of America a dream. Give them the dream of an America in which any man who is walling to do his honest share will receive his honest share of America’s plenty; give them the dream of a world in which the people of the world will share honestly in the plenty of the world.
If this is Bolshevism or Red radicalism or un-Americanism, then so be it. America is today face to face with the greatest war of her national history. Without a great faith, we shall lose that war. With faith, we shall win it.