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James T. Farrell

A Letter to the Editor

James T. Farrell Answers Broun

(June/July 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 54, 28 July 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In answering a critic named Mr. Brent in The New Republic of June 28, Heywood Broun made the following remarks concerning me:

“If Mr. Brent had attended the Writers’ Congress of two years ago he would have encountered a one-man picket line in front of Carnegie Hall. The legion of protest consisted of Mr. James T. Farrell, who wrote A World I Never Made. Now Mr. Farrell in his sincere and earnest way can use as many short and ugly words as any writer living, but his addiction to this theory of literature has not made him a progressive. There is nothing to prevent an author’s being a realist and a reactionary. Escape can be found in a swamp as readily as in an ivory tower.”

Feeling that these remarks called for an answer, I addressed one to Mr. Bruce Bliven, editor of The New Republic. Without seeing fit to ask my permission to summarize and quote from my letter rather than print in full, he presented a one paragraph summary of it with quotations in The New Republic of July 12th. Inasmuch as I am anxious that my letter in full be printed, I am including it here, and I would be grateful if you would print it in your columns.

New York City, July 6, 1939

Sincerely yours,
James T. Farrell

* * *

James T. Farrell’s letter to the New Republic follows:

Bruce Bliven
The New Republic
40 East 49th St.
New York City


I trust that when Haywood Broun takes his next catechism lesson, or – if he has completed these – when he examines his conscience next year to make his Easter Duty, he will seek to acquire some information concerning the sins of contumely and mischief making. For it is a moot point whether or not the sin he committed against me in the New Republic (June 28) is describable as one of contumely or as mischief making. Personally, I think it is contumely. However, I do not wish to labor the point, and would suggest that Mr. Broun consult his confessor. Likewise the question as to whether or not his sin is mortal or venial is one which he must settle in his own conscience and with advice from the proper authorities. Saint Thomas Aquinas said:

“Contumely essentially involves a certain dishonour, if the speaker’s intention is fixed on taking away the honour of the hearer by the words that he utters, this properly and in itself is utter contumely; and that is a mortal sin no less than theft or robbery.”

However, while Haywood Broun’s sin raises problems in his own conscience, my duty in this matter is perfectly clear. As Saint Thomas Aquinas said:

“Sometimes ... we must rebut contumely put up on us for two reasons ... the one is the good of him who offers the contumely, that his boldness may be checked and he may not try such things on us again, according to the text: ‘Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he imagine himself to be wise:’ the other is the good of the many, whose advancement is hindered by the contumelies put on us.”

Since, then, it is my duty to answer Mr. Broun, I shall do so, and my only hope is that he be led to face his own duties in this matter with the proper gravity.

Statement of Position

Mr. Broun seeks to dishonor me by stating that I am a reactionary. He based his contumely on the allegation that I picketed the second American Writers’ Congress. I did not picket that Congress. But had I done so, such conduct would not prove that I am a reactionary. The League of American Writers organized this Congress. Some of the reasons why I am opposed to the League of American Writers are the following:

  1. On all major issues and policies, it has followed the line of the Stalinist Third International. When the Third International changed its political line in 1935, the League of American Writers altered its policies to fit the new line. I am opposed to the Third International.
  2. I am convinced that the policies of the League of American Writers are calculated to lead this country into war, and I am opposed to war.


  1. The League of American Writers has already furnished abundant illustrations to prove that it is an undemocratic organization.
  2. The League of American Writers has protested against the jailing of writers in Germany and Italy. I agree with such protests. But this organization has not protested against the equal brutality and equal injustice of the present regime of the Soviet Union in jailing writers. I am for freedom, not only in Germany and Italy, but also in Russia, and everywhere else in the world. The League of American Writers has either defended or remained silent concerning the many brutalities of the Russian regime which refer to political rather than literary life. I am opposed to such a policy.
  3. At the second American Writers Congress, the only representative of a political party who spoke was Earl Browder, and when he indulged in wanton political and personal attacks, the majority of the membership was described as having applauded him.
  4. In the reports of Congresses held by the League of American Writers, I have clearly observed that the League makes insufficient distinctions between serious literature and commercial writing. I think that such action aids Philistinism, and I have no use for Philistinism.

These are not reactionary reasons for opposition to the League of American Writers. By calling me a reactionary, Heywood Broun proves that he has not changed his political line. But then, I have done my duty for his own good. I leave him to his conscience.

I would like to add that I have presented in detail, my conceptions concerning naturalism and realism in literature and my views concerning the relationship between literature and politics in my book, A Note on Literary Criticism. Heywood Broun’s reference to my theory of literature is a misrepresentation.

New York City, June 22, 1939

Sincerely yours,
signed: James T. Farrell

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