Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Norman Thomas and Communism in the Late 1940's

In my post today on W.A. Swanberg's biography of six-time Socialist candidate for President Norman Thomas, Norman Thomas: The Last Idealist, I'll talk about Thomas' stance on Communism during the late 1940's.  I'll list what stances Thomas took that led him to be labeled as pro-Communist, and his stances that led him to be labeled as anti-Communist.  I'll be drawing from pages 304, 311-312, and 329 of Swanberg's book.

Thomas' stances that led him to be labeled as pro-Communist include the following:

1.  Thomas was fond of a number of Socialists who went over to the Communist Party.

2.  Thomas opposed a military buildup because he preferred worldwide disarmament under the auspices of the United Nations.  Thomas had some doubts that the Soviets would accept this, but he hoped that reasonable persuasion would convince them that disarmament was in the best interests of everyone in the world.

3.  Thomas considered the Truman Doctrine, which provided military support to Greece and Turkey to prevent them from falling to the Communists, to be promoting imperialism.

4.  Thomas criticized the Mundt-Nixon bill because he thought that it would drive the Communist Party in the U.S. underground, making it more dangerous, plus he maintained that the Communist Party in the U.S. had a constitutional right to "exist, meet, and politick" (Swanberg on page 310).  (Nixon denied, however, that Mundt-Nixon would outlaw the Communist Party.  See here.)  Thomas was also critical of the McCarran bill.

5.  Thomas criticized the House Committee for Un-American Activities (HUAC) for doing "any genuine liberal position far more harm than good" and for giving Communists "ammunition" (Thomas' words, quoted on page 311).  For Thomas, HUAC set no clear standards for "what constitutes unAmerican activities", and he feared that people on HUAC would be "able to say who can write in our press, speak on our radio or be employed in the movie industry" (Thomas' words, quoted on page 312).

6.  Thomas did not care for how movie magnates fired Communists or fellow-travelers.  Thomas considered that to be censorship that was far more dangerous than what these accused people had done, plus he felt that there was no evidence that a number of them had engaged in subversion, for they were fired simply for refusing to answer the question of whether or not they were Communists.

7.  Thomas "had only contempt for [Joseph] McCarthy...as the crude and ruthless exploiter of an issue that was indeed real and deserved serious consideration" (Swanberg on page 329).

Thomas' stances that led him to be labeled as anti-Communist include the following:

1.  Thomas considered the Soviet system to be brutal, and he was particularly sickened by Soviet slave camps.

2.  Thomas considered a number of proponents of the Soviet system to be "either misguided or treacherous" (Swanberg on page 312).

3.  Thomas praised the Marshall Plan, which provided economic aid to European countries to help them to rebuild and to prevent them from falling to Communism.

4.  Thomas had issues with Communists holding positions in the government----"from police chief to President" (Swanberg on page 312)----and he did not want Communists to be on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)  because he felt that could "invalidate [its] defense of civil liberties" (Thomas, quoted on page 312).

5.  Thomas did not want people who were dedicated Communists to instruct American children.

6.  Thomas thought that Alger Hiss was guilty of espionage.

7.  Thomas invited speakers to gatherings to present a non-Communist case to people and thereby prevent Communists from exploiting issues.

On page 329, Swanberg says that Thomas distinguished between "those who (like himself) had once had faith in the Soviet experiment and hence had been friendly with American Communists, and those who still humored the Kremlin in 1950."  Thomas was long a believer in civil liberties, yet he had issues with Communists and Communism.

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