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Socialist Appeal, 24 October 1939

“War Is the Issue!” – Says Call to Writers and Professionals

League for Cultural Freedom and Socialism
Condemns War Plans of American Profiteers

(October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 81, 24 October 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Signed by 59 radical writers, a statement issued last week by the League for Cultural Freedom and Socialism pointed to the war as the great issue of the day, and called upon writers and professional workers to join with them in opposing the war and the war-makers. The statement, which speaks for itself as an outspoken declaration against the imperialist war now raging in Europe as well as against the Roosevelt-Wall Street War Deal which is seeking to drag the people into the war, is here printed in full:

* * *

Several months ago the League for Cultural Freedom and Socialism addressed its founding statement “to all artists and writers concerned about the present drift of the United States to reaction and war.”

“Cultural circles, formerly progressive,” we wrote then, “are now capitulating to the spirit of fascism while ostensibly combatting its letter ... To the war drive of the fascist powers,they reply with a war drive of their own ... Inspired by Stalinist and social-reformist propaganda, they advocate a new war for ‘democracy’. Yet this war must give birth to military dictatorship and to forms of intellectual repression far more violent than those evoked by the last war.”

Since this was written, the Stalinist regime has joined hands with Hitler, and Poland has been partitioned between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The thunder of the second world war is now shaking Europe. These great historical events have shattered old alignments over here and are creating new groupings. Less than a week before the Berlin-Moscow pact was announced, for example, four hundred American writers, artists, educators and intellectuals signed their names to a statement of faith in the Soviet Union as a bulwark of “democracy.” Clearly worried by the formation of the LCFS and similar groups the four hundred sharply rebuked all critics of Stalinism as friends of fascism. This document has now become a historical curiosity.

Roosevelt Joins Allied Cause

But this is no time for crying, “We told you so!” The actual outbreak of war in Europe has reduced even the Stalin-Hitler pact to a second-rate question. The great question now is: what is the attitude of American intellectuals, regardless of past illusions, towards American participation in the war? War has become the issue.

It took almost three years to swing the United States into the last war. Already the Roosevelt administration has served notice that it will attempt to do in months what the Wilson administration took years to achieve. Already it is devoting its chief energies not to domestic reform but to foreign policy. So far as it lies in the power of the New Deal, American blood and treasure will be lavishly expended to help France and England crush once more their ancient imperialist rival.

We loathe and abominate fascism as the chief enemy of all culture, all real democracy, all social progress, But the last war showed only too clearly that we can have no faith in imperialist crusades to bring freedom to any people. Our entry into the war, under the slogan of “Stop Hitler!” would actually result in the immediate introduction of totalitarianism over here. Only the German people can free themselves of the fascist yoke. The American masses can best help them by fighting at home to keep their own liberties.

The Duty of Artists and Writers

The war issue most intimately concerns American intellectuals. Parrington summarizes the effects of the last war on our culture: “With the entry of America into the war came a sharp change in literary development. Regimentation due to war psychology destroyed the movement of social criticism ... The liberal movement in economics and politics came to an abrupt end.” Nor can we have any illusions about the effect on our cultural life of American entry into this war. It will mean corruption for those who accept it, spiritual if not physical imprisonment for those who refuse to conform, Every branch of our culture will beset back for decades.

What can American artists and writers do at this time?

In a practical, immediate sense, they can help make articulate the strong opposition which the great majority of the. American people still feel to our entry into the war. The masses, who have nothing to gain and everything to lose from another war, are far from endorsing the President’s foreign policy. But this sentiment can again be cheated, deceived, propagandized out of existence as it was in the last war, unless it is made conscious and given organized expression. Here the intellectuals can be of the greatest service.

In a more general sense, American writers and artists must put themselves on record against the war as a symbol of their acceptance of the responsibilities of their profession. In the last war, a whole generation of writers committed spiritual suicide by taking part in the orgy. If only for the sake of their own integrity, American intellectuals must now signalize their opposition not only to war in the abstract but specifically to American entry into this war. It would be a betrayal of the human spirit for them to keep silent at this time.

War is the great issue today. We call upon all American artists, writers and professional workers to join us in this statement of implacable opposition to this dance of war in which Wall Street joins with the Roosevelt administration.

(Signed) Lionel Abel, Kay Boyle, James Burnham, V.F. Calverton, Eleanor Clark, James Peter Cooney, James Decker, David C. DeJong, Paul Dobbs, F.W. Dupee, James T. Farrell, Charles Henri Ford, Philip H. Gray, Jr., Clement Greenberg, William Gruen, Esther D. Hamill, Robert Hivnor, Melvin J. Lasky, James Laughlin IV, Dwight Macdonald, John McDonald, Sherry Mangan, Ralph Manheim, Alan Mather, Clark Mills, Norman Mini, George L.K. Morris, Culbertson Myers, Gilbert Neiman, Helen Neville, George Novack, Lyman Paine, Kenneth Patchen, Carl Peterson, William Phillips, Arthur Pincus, Fairfield Porter, Philip Rahv, Kenneth Rexroth, T.C. Robinson, James Rorty, Harold Rosenberg, Harry Roskolenko, Meyer Shapiro, Delmore Schwartz, Winfield T. Scott, Gordon Sylander, John Wheelwright, William Carlos Williams, Bertram D. Wolfe.


The following non-members of the League have also signed the above statement:

Louise Bogan, Anita Brenner, Joseph Cornell, Robert Fitzgerald, Malcomb Greene, Weldon Kees, Victor Lawson, Gorham B. Munson, Katharine Anne Porter.

(Please address all communications to:Dwight Macdonald, 117 East 10 St., N.Y.C.)

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