The Holocaust Historiography Project

The Pro-Red Orchestra In the USA, 1941

Initial reaction of interventionist spokesmen and press to the Soviet entry into the European war

The political situation facing Roosevelt’s war party was far more complicated and troublesome, there being no formal state of hostilities with anyone, and with a long campaign to provide “aid” to England just concluded, and with its opponents anything but happy over the state of affairs resulting. Adding Stalin to the candidates for assistance was a more formidable proposition. Major newspaper lineup on the issue continued approximately the same. The Hearst papers, typified by the New York Journal American, and the McCormick-Patterson interests, of which the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Times-Herald, and the New York Daily News represented the principal voice, could be counted on to oppose flatly any material gestures toward Soviet Russia. But the New York Herald Tribune, the patrician voice of Eastern interventionist Republicanism, while managing to carry a sizable freight consisting of thinly disguised Stalinist spokesmen, suddenly discovered that objections to an alliance with Communist Russia to beat Hitler were based on “moralistic follies,” while its chief columnist spokesman, Walter Lippmann, the closest thing to Jove on the American journalistic scene, loosed some of his rumbling thunder on the subject, cautioning critics of aid to Stalin against releasing excessive “vaporings about democracy.”

America’s tiny Communist press could not come up with material as good as this. With spokesmen as far apart as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Herald Tribune, there was no sense to allegations by Republicans that the Democrats were the “war” party; a large number of both were on Roosevelt’s pro-war team. World War Two homogenized American politics. It put foreign policy more or less off the agenda thereafter, resulting in the “bi-partisanship” which prevailed regardless of the winners in the quadrennial elections. The war really created two new parties, supporting pro-involvement or anti-involvement in global international activities, and vastly disparate in size progressively after Pearl Harbor. What passed for “debate” among the world interventionist majority for thirty years descended to the level of whether five or seven units of artillery or one or two aircraft carriers should be sent to some distant land. There has been nothing in American history to match what has happened since 1942 in demonstrating dramatically the function of foreign policy as a reflection of domestic policy, and the essential control of the latter by the former.

With the entry of Communist Russia into the war against the Germans, most of America’s liberals and non-Communist Left took another ludicrous and wrenching opinion lurch. The venom behind the “Communazi” epithet quickly was neutralized in the warm flow of sympathy which was promptly forthcoming. They were aided by many self-recruited newcomers who joined them and helped build the big wave of pro-Stalinist sentiment which was still washing over the land when the falling-out occurred five years later. It might be said that not as many liberals and leftists were against aid to Russia as there were conservatives and rightists for such aid. The anti-aid liberals were grouped around the Keep America out of War Congress, and additional figures such as Norman Thomas and Eugene Lyons represented other factions hostile to pro-Soviet support. But other left organizations, such as the Legion for American Unity, the Union for Democratic Action, the Council on Soviet Relations and the Socialist Workers' Party were examples of elements quick to back an aid program for Soviet Russia.

On the operational side, two of the principal interventionist pressure groups, ostensibly buttressed by influential conservatives, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, and the Fight for Freedom Committee, both responded promptly to the Russo-German war by urging U.S. aid to the Communists. The former dropped “by Aiding the Allies” from its name, while stipulating that aid be given Stalin “without relaxing opposition to Communism.” The FFF soft-pedaled that approach and attacked the most formidable anti-interventionist group, the America First Committee, while posing to the latter a bogus choice, “Would you rather have the Nazis looking across the Bering Strait or Alaska?"(13) This was reminiscent of the ingeniously clever questions invented by George Gallup, head of the American Institute of Public Opinion, and an ardent pro-war activist, one of which was whether it was more important to defeat Hitler or to stay out of the war. When put this way, 70% supported the first clause, but when the same people were quizzed on a declaration of war, a larger percentage, 80%, flatly said no.(l4) Pollsters persisted in putting people on the spot this way by presenting two-part propositions, the first of which was ethical and the second practical politics, which introduced serious popular confusion between ends and means, insofar as these same pollsters stated the issues and allowed decisions based on these limitations. Thus either large interest group, for or against involvement, was equally free to quote the public response, and both were right. But the chips came down only when the interventionists quietly inserted the matter of aiding the Reds as part of the pro-war proposition. This invariably drew a formidable vote against involvement. As for the Communist Party, 145 delegates from 48 states met in New York City the last weekend of June 1941 to prepare a “peoples' program,” which included a wild call for all-out aid. Churchill and the CPUSA were of one voice by July 4, 1941, whatever may have been their disparate objectives.

Such an alignment was purely coincidental to forces such as Churchill represented. Time, which in magazine journalism stood for what the Herald Tribune did among the dailies, set the tone by simultaneously uttering huzzas for Stalin and Russia while The Pro-Red Orchestra in the U.S.A. (15)… displaying nothing but contempt for domestic Stalinists. The German attack was ill-timed for the American newsweeklies, taking place on a Sunday. As a result, the issues of June 23 were already being distributed and could have nothing on this electrifying event, one of the half-dozen most important dates of the entire war. Therefore, the first comment was delayed until the issues of June 30. By that date Time was able to make a deeper assessment of what was taking place, and thought the message written by Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles and read to the press, obviously with Pres. Roosevelt’s approval, not only amounted to a pledge to Stalin but used the language of a committed belligerent, regardless of the state of diplomatic realities. It did not bother Time that Welles filled the statement with verbiage such as “Hitler’s treacherous attack upon Soviet Russia,” and using such choice derogations as “dishonorable,” “deceitful,” “hostile,” “murderous,” “brutal,” “desperate,” and the like; as they concluded with satisfaction, “When the U.S. could officially use such terms” in describing the German action, “the U.S. was certainly at War. (16) A further article asserted that all of Washington was of the view that Communist Russia now had become at least technically a beneficiary of FDR’s $7 billion fund “to aid the allies of democracy,” while noting that Churchill had immediately sprung to Stalin’s defense. A minor problem existed here, since Churchill had become a recipient of U.S. military assistance only about three months before when the Administration’s hotly-contested Lend-Lease legislation was enacted. Therefore if this was now to become a “Lenin-Lease” program, it suggested to some that anything Churchill contributed to Stalin’s cause might first have to be derived from Roosevelt, in which case the U.S. would probably be the original source of all “aid” supplied to Communist Russia. (17)

There is little doubt but that the involvement of Stalinist Russia in the war in the summer of 1941 put a substantial crimp in the interventionist propaganda line that the war was an unsullied conflict between “tyranny,” represented by Germany, and “freedom,” by its British adversaries. This was essentially the contention of the American Anglophiles, which to their embarrassment was now tirelessly mouthed by the Communists. It no longer was an imperialist war, and global materialist factors quickly vanished. Though Soviet Russia itself represented one of the most impressive feats of imperialism, the word had not been applied to the USSR by Reds or their allies since before Lenin’s deaths Now that they were a party to the conflict, all description of the war as a contest for mainly tangible objectives ceased, and the taking on of the moralistic terminology of the pro-British opinion-makers irked the latter substantially.

Time on July 7 in its article “The New Party Line” was anything but conciliatory to the CPUSA, though in a parallel piece had kind words to say about the sudden resurrection of Soviet diplomat Constantine Oumansky to respectability. The magazine thought the CP leader William Z. Foster grotesque in declaring that “A victory for Russia will enormously strengthen democracy throughout the world,” while concluding that a Russian victory would primarily “strengthen U.S. Communists.” (l8) The job of Time and all the other agents of traditional British affiliations and sympathies was to get on with a war in which the assistance of Russia against Germany could be effected with as little reward or gain redounding to the Russians at its conclusion as possible. So, even at this early stage it was hands-across-the-Volga, but with a grimace of distaste. The wartime partnership between the U.S.A. and the USSR lay more than five months in the future, but its psychic consequences were apparent from the moment people and politicians began to talk of supporting Stalin in June 1941. Ultimately it gave this country the most uneasy and morally disturbing experience it has ever known in the history of her foreign affairs. With the exception of a few high-flying months in 1943 it must have been apparent to the respective contingents of pro-Stalinists of all social backgrounds and economic levels in this country that they were engaged in the salesmanship of a doomed product.

The schizoids of Time, with their continuous rebuffs of and sneers at the U.S. Communists (19) while glowing with favorable sentiment toward the Russian Reds, were symptomatic of other sectors of bedeviled American opinion makers. It was embarrassing to have to support the Soviet Union and simultaneously to have to suffer local Communists. From the propaganda point of view, what was to eventuate resulted in a unique war for the United States. While Time presumed that there was no need to bring the populace into the picture, the issue involved being of stratospheric foreign affairs well beyond the limited capacities of the common citizenry to understand, the other two newsweeklies made a gesture at trying to determine what a sector of the general public thought about it all, even if they overwhelmingly sought the views of persons of some prominence while doing it. The First Polls of American Political Personalities on the Pros and Cons of Aiding the Soviet Union The United States News (it did not add World Report until 1950) exclaimed, “With Germany and Russia at grips along a vast frontier, and with the Administration’s announcement that any opposition to Hitler, no matter what its source, is of benefit to our own defense, this country faces a new problem in international relations.” It faced a new problem in internal relations, too: What did the people in general think of this loud huzza to Stalinist Russia from the Roosevelt regime? U.S. News sought to find out at least partially by polling public figures on the question “Should the U.S. aid Russia as a part of the American policy of aiding Great Britain?”

Wealthy Joseph E. Davies, late ambassador to Soviet Russia and the launching pad of more pro-Stalinist mischief than the entire Communist apparati in the U.S.A. combined were ever to achieve, responded, “My answer to your query is unqualifiedly, yes.” Senator Gerald P. Nye, famous for having conducted the investigation into the material profiteers from World War I five years earlier, replied in the negative as abruptly as Davies had in the positive: Nye believed that Roosevelt should “draw the line” against this further involvement.

Rep. Melvin J. Maas (R.-Minn.), minority member of the House of Representatives Committee on Naval Affairs, declared, “I do not believe that we should aid Russia. When you help one burglar to beat another, you are bound to be robbed yourself in the end anyway. Stalin and Communism are as great a menace as Hitler and Nazism. A shortsighted policy of expediency of the moment, such as aiding Stalin, may be the tragedy of tomorrow, loosing a greater destructive force in the world than that which now threatens us.”

The prophetic quality of Rep. Maas’s contribution was rarely bettered by others, though it was something pro-Stalinist figures abominated, and tried to make believe had never happened when the latter zealots for the Soviet were circling about, a little over four years later, trying to mobilize the land in the global Cold War against Stalin which Rep. Maas accurately predicted.

But there were far more to be put on the record by the U.S. News reportorial pollsters. Rep. A.J. May (D.-Ky.), Chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee, sounded the case of the reluctantly repelled among the Administration’s supporters: “The complete crushing of Hitler and his regime is today’s paramount issue, and while the Communism of Russia is unthinkable and the enemy of human liberty, it is a stealthy force not yet turned loose in such vicious form and with such objectives of conquest as that of Nazism under Hitler. Therefore I am persuaded that first problems should come first, and we should aid Russia by aiding Britain.”

Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, the Royal Oak, Michigan, Catholic priest who had been a burr in Pres. Roosevelt’s hide for eight years with his radio orations and publications, confined himself to quoting Pope Pius XI, “ 'Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any manner whatsoever,'” and Cardinal Hinsley of England, “ 'Britain must not, cannot, ally herself to an atheistic dictatorship.' “ Norman Thomas, four times Socialist Party candidate for President of the U.S.A., but an implacable political adversary of domestic and foreign Communism, expressed his sympathy with the Russian people but demurred from coming to Stalin’s succor: “I want no American boy to die to decide which of two cruel and perfidious dictators shall temporarily rule the European continent,” Thomas forcefully responded; “Therefore I want no attempt to send aid to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at great cost to ourselves.”

But Rev. L.M. Birkhead, Director of the fiercely pro- interventionist Friends of Democracy, thought the fear of future Communist advancement a trivial thing: “The United States should give every possible aid to Russia in the present crisis,” while confidently predicting that after the defeat of Hitler, “the threat of Communism” “would no longer exist,” “for Russia will be exhausted by this war, win or lose.” No one polled the citizens of the twelve European capitals in the hands of the Red Army on the breezy confidence of Rev. Birkhead four years later, nor was it done while they still lay in the grips of Soviet Communism nearly forty years later. But in 1941 one of the “friends” of “democracy,” in the view of Rev. Birkhead and his front, was Stalinist Communism.

Some were evasive. Paul Hutchinson, editor of the very influential Protestant weekly Christian Century, thought that aid should be extended to Stalin only after an American defense force had been fully built up, while Ralph Barton Perry, the Harvard University philosopher who chaired the Harvard Group on National Defense, stepped aside and was willing to let the Roosevelt regime decide on the matter. Another of the formidable Eastern figures behind the Anglophile impulse, Frederic R. Coudert, also evaded the question.

As far as its press survey, the U.S. News thought the nation’s newspaper editors supported the idea the U.S. should aid the USSR, but of the 14 papers it quoted, only the New York Times was for immediate and limitless aid to the Reds regardless of consequences. It was noted however that the majority of the papers had a very restrained admiration of the Bolshevik regime, and tended to speak of helping “Russia,” not its political masters. (20)

Things moved so fast, and the overrunning of Soviet-held Poland and entry into Western Russia by the German forces in the three weeks after June 22, 1941 was so rapid, that hysteria among Stalin’s friends in the U.S.A. swelled dramatically, and the question of American aid to Russian Communism in its travails grew more prominently among those who charted public opinion. U.S. News continued its poll another week in July, soliciting positive and negative responses from another collection of the country’s notables, which managed to explore other dimensions of the issue and its likely results.

Speaking favorably in behalf of pro-Communist aid against Germany were Rev. Dr. St. George Tucker, Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S., Rt. Rev. Joseph L. O'Brien, Pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Charleston, S.C., Clark L. Eichelberger, Acting Chairman of the most powerful pro-war pressure group in the country, The Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, and Major General John F. O'Ryan, Commander of the 27th Division in World War I and sponsor of the equally interventionist Fight for Freedom Committee. In addition to these were Rev. Dr. Henry W. Hobson, Bishop for Southern Ohio for the Protestant Episcopal Church and Chairman of the FFF Committee, Rev. Owen A. Knox, Chairman of the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties, Estelle M. Sternberger, Executive Director of World Peaceways, and James H. Sheldon, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Nonsectarian Anti-Nazi League, another deeply committed band of civilian warriors.

Rev. Dr. Tucker asserted, “It would seem to me a very wise and proper thing to do. As a matter of fact, I think our Government has already decided on this course. Father O'Brien was more explicit and saw principled virtue in aiding Stalin: “In the choice between Germany and Russia, the democracies are safe if they throw their full power and influence on the side of Russian ignorance and superstition to crush German intellectual materialism.” Eichel- berger was strongly in the affirmative as well, “Not because Communism is deserving of any sympathy, but because the German attack upon Russia is part of the strategy of the Battle of Britain and part of Germany’s desire to dominate the world.” The unwearied assertion of the alleged German goal of world domination was a major aspect of the propaganda of the Committee to Defend the Allies. Gen. O'Ryan enthusiastically supported aid to Stalin, since the defeat of Hitler called for “the expedient cooperation with any of his enemies who will hasten his defeat,” an end which did not seem imminent, with Russian forces flying in retreat in Eastern Europe.

Dr. Hobson backed aid to the Soviet for a different reason, fearful of a quick German victory which he was sure would be followed by a westward drive by Hitler against America. Rev. Knox’s reason for backing aid was the following: “If we believe that democracy must be maintained by war and that England’s fight is our fight, there would appear to be little logic in doing anything less than giving Russia full support,” while Estelle Sternberger’s view was close to that of Rev. Dr. Tucker, that the Roosevelt regime was obviously favoring this course anyway. Sheldon not only vigorously supported aid to Stalin, claiming “the very life of democracy is at stake,” but used his response to cover a sideswiping blow at two obviously opposed public figures, the eminent aviator Charles A. Lindbergh and Senator Bennett Champ Clark (D.-Mo.), both of whom he claimed had fallen into Hitler’s “amazingly efficient propaganda trap.” Dr. Hobson had of course avoided all Stalinist propaganda traps. J. Barnard Walter, Secretary of the Friends' General Conference, issued an evasive generalization, declaring that “The one way the U.S. can help is to propose the kind of peace in which all peoples can unite with justice,” a course a light year away from that which FDR was traveling.

The others were in the unqualified “no” category; Frederick J. Libby, Executive Secretary of the National Council for the Prevention of War, John Haynes Holmes, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union, pastor of the Community Church in New York City and vice chairman of the Keep America Out of War Congress, Brig. Gen. Robert E. Wood, Chairman of the Board of Sears Roebuck Co., and Rev. Edward Lodge Curran, Pastor of St. Stephen’s Church in Brooklyn and Director of the Anti-War Crusade of the International Catholic Truth Society. Libby’s flat negative was followed by extensive explanation: Only a fleeting military expediency would prompt the United States to support Churchill in the coalition he has formed with the Communist dictator against the Nazi dictatorship. Such a tieup strips the last shreds of idealism from the Allied side of the war. After pointing out that Churchill had made an agreement to fight at Stalin’s side until Hitler was defeated, and that this meant that neither could negotiate peace without the other’s consent, Libby observed that “This means that Stalin’s war aims become Britain’s war aims as well,” concluding with a harsh-tasting evaluation for interventionism: If America ever joined this war now, we should be fighting, not for the “four freedoms,” but to restore Soviet tyranny over such little nations as Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Only the strictest neutrality is possible now for the United States, if it is to maintain its loyalty to democratic ideals. The hypocrisies of the [First] World War should not be repeated.

Rev. Holmes, a front rank member of America’s most influential opinion makers, was no less vehement: No, the United States should not aid Russia. Why should we use our wealth and power to make the world safe for Communism? The idea that this is a war for democracy and civilization is now revealed as the perfect sham it has always been. It is a war for imperialistic power and for the mastery of the world by any nation that can get it. General Wood, a founder of the most implacable anti-interventionist group, the America First Committee (though he was not identified with it in his statement), simply responded in a single sentence, “I do not think the United States should aid Russia as part of the American policy of aiding Great Britain,” but Fr. Curran adamantly declared: “decent nations who still enjoy the blessings of peace should lend no aid or comfort to the brawl.” He concluded: “The use of the Lend Lease law in favor or Communistic Russia by the President of the United States will generate the prompt and righteous indignation and opposition of all Godfearing, liberty-loving American citizens who denounce both Nazi Germany and Communist Russia as kindred branches of the same pagan stem."(21)

Four days earlier, Newsweek had added to the controversy by printing the reactions of several opponents of aid or involvement, which were as sharply hostile as those cited by U.S. News. Senator Burton K. Wheeler, (D.-Mont.), one of the foremost opponents of the Roosevelt foreign policy as it veered toward involvement in the war buildups in Europe and Asia since 1937, remarked: “The death struggle between the armed Germany and Russia is a death struggle between the armed might of Nazism and Communism, and not an American war.” This view was echoed by John T. Flynn, veteran columnist for the liberal New Republic and feature writer for Collier’s magazine: “It never was our war, and it is less our war now than ever.” Senator Walter F. George (D.-Ga.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his “profound hope” that this country will not become an active participant in the present war,” a hope already dashed by its considerable involvement indirectly as a result of the Lend Lease Act of the previous March, though far from the shooting stage, to be sure. In its roundup of no-help-to-Russia notables, Newsweek cited Sen. Clark as asking a Brooklyn crowd rhetorically if they could imagine “American boys being sent to their deaths singing 'Onward Christian Soldiers' under the bloody emblem of the Hammer and Sickle.” The redoubtable Sen. Robert A. Taft (R.-Ohio) was quoted in the same collection of statements as seeing a positive aspect of allowing Stalin to go down: “The victory of Communism in the world would be far more dangerous to the United States than a victory of Fascism.” Probably the most influential of the anti-aid figures was former President Herbert C. Hoover, and both Newsweek and Time published statements by him in their July 7, 1941 issues. In the former, Hoover noted, “We now find ourselves promising aid to Stalin and his militant Communist conspiracy against the democratic ideals of the world,” an allusion to the Administration’s sympathetic moves in that direction beginning with the publication of the Welles statement. “Collaboration between Britain and Russia,” concluded Hoover, “makes the whole argument of our joining the war to bring the four freedoms to mankind a Gargantuan jest.”

Time frontpaged this observation by FDR’s immediate predecessor in the White House and added his famous warning, “If we go further [than aid to Stalin] and join the war and we win, then we have won for Stalin the grip of Communism on Russia, and more opportunity for it to extend in the world."(23) It has been a rare week in the over 40 years since Hoover uttered those words that the world has not seen them supported by world events. Despite the prominence given to the views of public figures hostile to additional involvement in the war via aid to Russia in harmony with already announced British policy to go all out in this direction, there were all kinds of indicators that the Administration considered the spreading of the war advantageous to its own cautious edging- into hostilities. At the end of July 1941, U.S. News told its readers in tones just short of panic that “best informed U.S. officials” were convinced the Germans would reach their objectives in Russia by September 15.(24) To some this was over-kill in the propaganda department, for should Hitler attain his goals that soon, then there was little need to attempt aiding Stalin; the war in the East would be over long before any assistance arrived at the war front. Others were less disconcerted. Time, still looking for a formula by which it could express its distaste for American Communists while hailing the Russian variety, conceded that the Soviet Union was “the weaker of two well-hated dictatorships,” yet denounced Hitler’s “crusade against Communism,” and backed aiding Stalin in his struggle as a protection of “democracy."(25) U.S. News also enjoyed the discomfiture the opening of the war between the Germans and Russians caused to the Communist Party (CP) in America, forcing it to abandon its nearly two-year position of neutrality overnight, though there were signs that this abrupt turnaround was not unbearably painful, and was being achieved with skill. As early as July 8, New Masses, easily the most influential Communist journal in the U.S.A., printed a piece authored by Rep. Adolph A. Sabath (D.-Ill.) urging aid to the Soviet as a matter of concern to U.S. defenses In general the stress was upon this issue, and not that of making the Russian Communist regime safe. From this point on it was a contest between the liberals and Communists as to which could make the most ringing appeal to American self-interest in saving Stalin.

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