Bulletin of America’s Town Meeting of the Air
Wolcott D. Street, Editor
Published by COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS New York
Vol. 4, no. 11 * $2.50 A YEAR : 10 Cents A Copy
America’s Town Meeting is on the air, this time to discuss the subject, "Is America Menaced by Foreign Propaganda?" Through the miracle of radio, the doors of historic Town Hall in New York City are opened for the entire nation. The meeting, as usual, will be conducted by our moderator, Mr. George V. Denny, Jr., president of Town Hall and founder and director of "America’s Town Meeting of the Air."
Good evening, neighbors. I wonder what the title of our meeting this evening brings to your minds. Is America menaced by foreign propaganda? There was a time when propaganda referred to a religious organization charged with spreading the gospel. There may be good propaganda as well as bad propaganda. Foremost in our minds tonight, perhaps, is the thought that twice within the past year the army of Europe’s principal military power has crossed a border to occupy neighboring territory without firing a single shot.
The new instrument of warfare in the world today is propaganda. According to the Institute of Propaganda Analysis, located in this city, propaganda, "as generally understood … is expression of opinion or action, by individuals or groups, deliberately designed to influence opinions or actions of other individuals or groups with reference to predetermined ends." From morn to midnight all over the civilized world, men feel the impact of propaganda of one kind or another. Under some forms of government, people are controlled by it. Wherever it can be kept out in the open and identified for what it is, if it is good, it has a chance to survive; if it is bad, it will die, provided the people are alert to their responsibilities as citizens. Let us remember that every dictatorship that has arisen in Europe was born in the graveyard of democracy. The people let it go by default. As we have often pointed out, a dictatorship is the logical evolution of government for a people incapable of self-government. So, as we consider this subject tonight, let us realize that every speaker is talking directory to us. Let us ask ourselves this important question, "How can democracy protect itself against the aggressive tactics of all types of totalitarianism and at the same time preserve our civil liberties?" I think there is no more profound question before the American people today. Each of our four speakers answers tonight’s question in the affirmative, but all approach the subject from different points of view.
Naturally, either the Town Hall nor the National Broadcasting Company can accept responsibility for, nor will we attempt to censor, what they have to say. We are providing a platform from which they may exercise one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed us under the American Constitution—free speech and free and open debate.
Let us then consider their answers thoughtfully and objectively, and remember we are not trying to solve this problem during this hour’s discussion. Our function is to ventilate it, to clarify the issues, and to show you at best we can the real nature of the problem. The final decision must rest with you, the citizens of America.
On our program this evening are Mr. Channing Pollock, distinguished author and lecturer, whose play, The Fool, has won an immortal niche in the annals of the American theatre; Mr. Earl Browder, General Secretary of the Communist Party in the United States; Mr. J.B. Matthews, formerly a member of the Communist Party but more recently a principal witness before the Dies Committee, and author of the Odyssey of a Fellow Traveler; and Mr. Morris L. Ernst, distinguished New York attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. I take pleasure at this time is presenting our first speaker, Mr. Channing Pollock.
America’s national anthem is "Please Go ‘Way and Let Me Sleep." That has been the theme song of every nation that has fallen victim to organized minorities. Writing of Austria in The Saturday Evening Post, Frederick Sondern said, "Both patriots and Nazis were small groups; power rested with the huge mass who did nothing but talk in the coffee houses."
"What was Kerensky doing?" an eye witness, George Sokolsky, asked some years ago in describing the Bolshevik seizure of Russia. "He was seeking compromises. He was orating of democracy. He had sought to be popular at the expense of public morals. He had catered to the nether millions. He had abolished discipline, playing ducks and drakes with the law. A minority had conquered Russia by organized minority pressure. The majority woke up later, but it was too late." Revolutions, instigated from within or without, are successful only when, in their beginnings, they are taken lightly.
Tonight’s question, "Is America Menaced by Foreign Propaganda?" can be decided definitely by answering two other questions, "Is there such propaganda?" and "Is it effective?" The second question answers itself. We have a people more interested in golf than in government. We have a people hypnotized and paralyzed by such meaningless phrases as "red-baiters." We have industrial depression, and millions of citizens with no stake in our country but what they can get out of it. We have an Administration that provides exactly the pampering, hot-house atmosphere for fungus growth. For me, that answers the second question as decisively as any man can answer it in eight minutes.
Everyone who isn’t asleep knows the answer to the first question. The propagandists themselves are loudest in crying that there is propaganda—only the communists cry that it’s fascist propaganda, and the fascists cry that it’s communist. They’re both right. A week ago, the Institute for Propaganda Analysis listed and described the methods of 800 pro-fascist, pro-Nazi, and anti-Semitic organizations. The others aren’t so easy. Nazi propaganda necessarily identifies itself; our importers of Russian "isms" all wear false whiskers—they are liberals, progressives, advocates of a more abundant life—everything but members of the Communist Party, which most of them avoid joining, since membership hampers their usefulness. It is too much to expect the man who robs your house to ask the butler to announce, "A burglar." So far as I know, there is only one Communist in America, and he is with us tonight. I respect Earl Browder for doing his fighting in the open, instead of plotting in secret, and planting the germs of revolution under cover of the Constitution he seeks to destroy. The man I fear most is the man who has to go ‘round explaining that he isn’t a communist.
"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Speaking for myself, all of that—except the word "sweet"—goes for every variety of "ism" but one—the simon-pure Americanism incubated on our own soil, hatched under the Liberty Bell, recorded in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and, for 150 years, successful in making us the freest, happiest and most prosperous people in history. I don’t propose to debate the merits of other systems; there’s no need. You can watch them work over half the so-called civilized globe. I recommend them highly to those who want them, and call attention to the fact that their blessings are to be enjoyed at the cost of a steamship ticket. I don’t see the least difference between any two forms of totalitarian government; and, for me, "menace" means any change in the broad principles of individual rights and individual liberty proclaimed by the men who created this country and wrested it from foreign control.
As for the compactly organized effort to restore that control, I repeat there is no doubt. All 800 Nazi organizations sing the same tune, says the bulletin just cited; words and music by Hitler. In 1935, the Communist International declared, "This is the program of the inevitable world-dictatorship of the proletariat." Quoted in House of representatives Report No. 2290, Comrade William Z. Foster said, "We carry on propaganda for the liquidation of these [religious] prejudices among the workers," and I am sure Comrade Browder will not object to my quoting his admissions, before the McNaboe Committee, that the Communist Party in the United States is "part and parcel" of the Communist International and that the Party maintains units, or cells, in hospitals, colleges, schools, cit and state government buildings, and in home-relief stations in New York. "Our literature and newspapers," Mr. Browder added, "penetrate almost everywhere."
Mr. Browder’s was not an empty boast. If I had eighty minutes, instead of eight, I think I could prove penetration into our government, our theatre, our press, our schools and colleges, our labor unions, our youth movement, our churches, our literature, and our so-called intelligentsia; among relief workers, Federal bureaus, and even among our Negroes and Indians. My own personal observations, through years and constant travel as a speaker, are—to put it mildly—confirmative of all sorts of penetration. It is a dull week’s mail that doesn’t bring me a dozen pamphlets supporting some foreign ideology—largely anti-Semitic. The head of a seemingly harmless organization wrote to ask whether my father was a Jew; two months later, a friend showed me my name in a list of "Under-Cover Jews in America."
I regret that time limitations do not permit going on with these experiences. I should like to list the schools training communist leaders, and to quote Moscow’s instruction to Americans in the art of street fighting and armed insurrection. If you still doubt opposition to our Constitution in a thousand powerful organizations, in ten thousand insidious influences, in the labor movement and the Federal Council of Churches, I can give you chapter and verse, with admissions from responsible executives. No one has spoken more frankly about Russian authority in the unions than William Green and John L Lewis.
All this seed is falling on productive ground. It could not be otherwise under present economic conditions, which, just possibly, several influential and powerful persons may not wish to see improved while they encourage sedition. I should be less than h onest if I did not include in the menace an Administration whose head is pictured under the sentence, "An Era of Fruitful Cooperation," on the cover of The Moscow Daily News, and, on the printed word of Carveth Wells, "in many places in Russia," over the cpation, "The Next Communist President of the United States." That menace cannot continue a menace—
…when free-men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
…the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
In our next installment of the January 23, 1939 Town Meeting we will continue with Mr. Browder’s response to Mr. Pollock. –Al Colombo, publisher
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