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Max Eastman

A Letter to Corliss Lamont

(April 1938)

From New International, Vol.4 No.4, April 1938, p.122.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


In 1934, when I met you, and asked about your political position, you said: “I am a Communist, but I am a Truth Communist.” And you explained that striking phrase to mean that you believed in the theories of Marx as interpreted by Lenin, but that you did not accept the policy of political lying to the masses practiced by the official communist parties under Stalin. That gave me a high feeling of respect for you, and upon that basis there arose a certain intellectual and moral friendship between us. You expressed it upon your side by presenting me with a copy of your book, The Illusion of Immortality, and inscribing upon the fly-leaf:

To Max Eastman

Who believes with me that Truth is
“More sweet than freedom;
more desired than joy,
More sacred than the serving of a friend.”

Corliss Lamont
April 1935

Although so clearly seeing that lying to the masses was an essential ingredient of Stalinist policy, and so solemnly abjuring it for yourself, you continued to run with the Stalinist chiefs. You never exposed their political lies, or said publicly what you said to me in private. For a very long time you played friends with both Lie Communists and Truth Communists, and gave your money with one hand to the Stalinists and with die other to independent revolutionary papers which still believed that scientific integrity and honest education of the masses is essential to the proletarian movement. Anybody who plays both sides in quiet times will be found in a crisis on the side with power. And in the issue between truth and political lying, between science and Jesuitism, between intelligence and blind bigotry, between education and indoctrination, between the enlightment and manipulation of public opinion, between the life of reason and the totalitarian state of mind – and that is the paramount issue upon which in this day the fate of civilization rests – the Moscow trials are a crisis. They carry the whole cult, art, ideology and technique of political and party lying to so hideous an extreme that every man in the labor and radical movement must take his stand for or against. And you have taken yours with those whom you yourself so clearly defined as the “Lie Communists”, because they are in the ascendant, and because you lack the moral force to stand against them for the truth.

You have enough sensitivity to feel, if your feelings were free, the crime against knowledge and social understanding involved in the mystification of these trials, even if the men were guilty. You have enough brains to know that if they were guilty of the complicated conspiratorial acts charged against them, it would be easy to prove them guilty beyond a peradventure. You know that that would be the honest way, the way of Truth-Communists and of truthful people anywhere. You are not so blind to the rays of justice, if your eyes were not held shut, as to accept these show trials of a few dozen who were ready to “confess”, as proof of the guilt, and justification for the murder behind closed doors, of hundreds, and indeed thousands, who were not. You are not so superior to the idea of mercy that you would naturally ignore the still unanswered question: What has become of the wives and children of these thousands of murdered communists? You would, under normal conditions, sense the ugliness of your own position – the son of a leading finance capitalist engaging in a campaign of slander by private correspondence on engraved stationery against the executed leaders of the Russian revolution, a scion of the house of Morgan assisting in the process of their dishonor by circulating arguments from the Saturday Evening Post based upon the premises of black reaction. Surely you could find a more appropriate way to serve the cause of labor! And you would find it, if you were free from pressure, free to be your simple, chivalrous self. That is why I assert that you have joined the Lie-Communists, and are serving as their “non-member” stooge and mouthpiece, merely because you lack the force of character to stand against them for the truth.

The one priceless thing you could have brought to the proletarian movement, coming from the source you do and with your education, was true knowledge and absolute principled integrity. Instead you are bringing a little money, a small gift even when it is large, and an increase of mental confusion and moral decay.

You played a very small unhonest trick in the matter of the Trotsky Committee and the New York Times. The committee had issued a press release on its usual stationery, and in printing it the New York Times had remarked that “Among those supporting the Committee’s statement as members were ...” and then reproduced sixteen names from the Committee’s letter-head. You, following the lead of the Daily Worker, issued one of your privately-mailed letters, in which you said that in the New York Times these sixteen persons were “alleged to have signed” the statement, and that therefore the Trotsky Committee was guilty of “a shocking use of names under false pretenses”. If you could push away those who are pressing upon you and take space for reflection, you would know that the action both of the Trotsky Committee and the New York Times was perfectly natural, and that it is you who are guilty of false pretenses and a rather shocking misuse of facts. Not extremely shocking, perhaps – and in your own person this may be only a beginning. It is a significant beginning of the career that is before you as a defender of Lie-Communists.

A more significant beginning, although more subtle, is contained in your circular letter of March, protesting against what you call “vituperation” in the Secretary’s reply to you. It reads:

“I wish to say in conclusion that in these turbulent times it is possible, in my opinion, for intelligent men to differ sincerely on the grave issues which are confronting all of us. And I am deeply conscious of the tragedy involved in the present divisions in the labor and radical movement.”

There is pathos in that appeal for intelligence and “sincere” disagreement, but there is also a certain Pharasaism. As National Chairman of the Friends of Soviet Russia you are, and must be if you remain in office, on all basic issues an obedient adherent of the Stalin party line. You well know the “for us or against us” policy. You know that the unscrupulous vilification and destruction of critics is as essential a technic of the Monolithic Party as of the Totalitarian State. You know that your pose of detached intelligence is being used, and what it is being used for. Perhaps you will realize why I call the resulting state of consciousness Pharasaical, when I remind you that you have addressed these noble-sounding sentences to me, among others, and that they arrived in my hand just after I had been criminally advertised to the world by your colleagues and co-workers, on the basis of these same “confessions” whose credibility you are so eagerly advocating, as an “Agent of the British Secret Service”. You are hand in glove with the authors of that criminal libel. You are doing their work, the work of which it is an integral part. You know them to be, and have yourself named them “Lie Communists”. And yet you strike this pose, and make this plea against “vituperation”, and for a “sincere” disagreement about “the grave issues” etc. And you send the letter to me!

Corliss, the grave issue at the present moment is between truth and lies. It may seem to you that I am drawing moral issues rather fine against you here and now. But you will find that in your role of public defender of a deliberate policy of falsification, you will be impelled, and compelled, to more and more crude, more and more conscious, more and more debased and foul, and even as we see in Russia, murderous, tricks of public deceit and private knifing, until there is not a clear fibre left of the man who coined those words “Truth Communist” and “Lie Communist”, and who wrote that moving inscription in my copy of his book.


Yours sincerely,

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