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Political Writings

Political Writings

Edited by Jude Davies
Copyright Date: 2011
https://doi.org/10.5406/j.ctt2ttd5f
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt2ttd5f
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  • Book Info
    Political Writings
    Book Description:

    Theodore Dreiser staked his reputation on fearless expression in his fiction, but he never was more outspoken than when writing about American politics, which he did prolifically. Although he is remembered primarily as a novelist, the majority of his twenty-seven books were nonfiction treatises._x000B__x000B_To Dreiser, everything was political. His sense for the hype and hypocrisies of politics took shape in reasoned but emphatic ruminations in his fiction and nonfiction on the hopes and disappointments of democracy, the temptations of nationalism and communism, the threat and trumpets of war, and the role of writers in resisting and advancing political ideas._x000B__x000B_Spanning a period of American history from the Progressive Era to the advent of the Cold War, this generous volume collects Dreiser's most important political writings from his journalism, broadsides, speeches, private papers, and long out-of-print nonfiction books. Touching on the Great Depression, the New Deal, and both World Wars as well as Soviet Russia and the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, these writings exemplify Dreiser's candor and his penchant for championing the defenseless and railing against corruption. _x000B__x000B_Positing Dreiser as an essential public intellectual who addressed the most important issues of the first half of the twentieth century, these writings also navigate historical terrain with prescient observations on topics such as religion, civil rights, national responsibility, individual ethics, global relations, and censorship that remain particularly relevant to a contemporary audience. Editor Jude Davies provides historical commentaries that frame these selections in the context of his other writings, particularly his novels.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09012-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xvii-xxvi)

    Struggles over Theodore Dreiser’s political significance and the importance of politics for Dreiser’s reputation were evident at his memorial service on 3 January 1946. The funeral party was addressed by both the communist John Howard Lawson, later to become one of the “Hollywood Ten” indicted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Dr. Allan Hunter, a minister in the Congregational Church. Though representative of contrasting views on the importance of politics to Dreiser—and of Dreiser to politics—both men concurred that his life and his work could be seen as a whole. Hunter acknowledged Dreiser’s “limitations,” but he also...

  2. Part One: 1895–1910

    • Historical Commentary
      (pp. 3-13)

      In the decade and a half around the turn of the century, Dreiser addressed political issues in three main ways. As editor of Ev’ry Month from 1895 to 1897 he expressed trenchant criticism of contemporary American society, largely in moralistic and philosophical terms. Ev’ry Month also evaluated various attempts at social improvement on the part of individuals and groups, a focus that Dreiser went on to extend as a freelance writer, and on his return to editorship in 1905. From 1907 to 1910, as editor of the mass-circulation The Delineator, he adopted a “humanitarian editorial policy” that favored a feminist...

    • America, Europe, and Cuba Ev’ry Month: An Illustrated Magazine of Popular Music, The Drama, and Literature, November 1895.
      (pp. 13-14)

      We are getting to be a very great people, I think. Everything points that way. We are marrying our millionaire daughters off to foreign dukes and earls, and bonding our cities in the interest of our loving protectors, the bankers of Europe.¹ We are chasing off to foreign capitals every spring-time 100,000 strong, and spending $100,000,000 all told, so that when the bankers begin to call for the settlement of our checks left with them, in gold, our treasury supply sinks below the confidence mark and we suffer a panic. We have a great society navy with twenty-five battleships as...

    • Women’s Suffrage Ev’ry Month: An Illustrated Magazine of Popular Music, The Drama, and Literature, August 1896.
      (pp. 15-17)

      Woman Suffrage is a very old, and, in reason, undisputed subject, but a good word on behalf of a great and sure-to-be-victorious cause is never out of place, so be it set down here that the activity of women in every quarter is but a sign that she is coming out of her dark ages, and beginning to take to herself the half of life that belongs to her. Of course, it is said that so long as woman looks to man as her sole support and enters into matrimony convinced that her lot in life is to be devotion...

    • The Toil of the Laborer New York Call, 13 July 1913.
      (pp. 17-25)

      The toil of the laboring man is artless. There is in it neither form nor color nor tone. For months I have been working as only working men work, and in the dreary round of the hours, it has come to me that the thing which was wearisome and disheartening about it was that it was utterly devoid of art. In the construction of a building whereat we labored for three long months, I discovered that with each day’s labor I was in contact with only that which was formless and colorless and toneless. Huge, misshapen, disheartening piles of bricks;...

    • Helps the Municipality Owes the Housewife The Delineator, February 1909.
      (pp. 25-28)

      This is the day when the municipality is finding itself. A sense of active responsibility for the environment of its citizens is a rapidly developing conviction with city governments. Even to the home life this jurisdiction extends. The milk and the water and the meat that supply the household must now be right or there are regularly commissioned officials to know the reason why and make them so. And such Government control of conditions that vitally affect the home, women, particularly, may appreciate. But there are some other helps that the Government owes the housewife. Men are blunderingly carrying on...

    • The Problem of the Dying Baby The Delineator, August 1909.
      (pp. 29-32)

      This is the hot season. It is now that the problem of maintaining our physical equilibrium is at the highest. Those who have money go to the seashore or the mountains. The cities are left, sweltering and uncomfortable, to those who must remain. In the long streets and the narrow area-ways you see that mass of humanity who by process of nature are of poor constructive ability, not so good as they might be—not so strong, not so shrewd. These people are left fighting in the ranks; husbands toiling for from seven to fifteen dollars a week and supporting...

    • The State of the Negro The Bohemian, October 1909.
      (pp. 32-35)

      There is nothing so interesting today in our civilization as the condition of the negro. Here is this vast body of people, citizens in name only, who live and have their being among us and who yet by the intelligent and respectable elements are entirely ignored. We hardly know of their existence socially. We rarely consider them financially. They slip about among us doing our washing, our cooking, our waiting and cleaning and we all but forget that they are with us.¹ A race without a country, a people without a national ideal. We laugh at their humor. We build...

    • The Day of Special Privileges The Bohemian, November 1909.
      (pp. 35-37)

      It is amusing or disturbing, just as you feel about our national life, to see how people take the growing privileges of the wealthy and the consequent diminution of the opportunities and privileges of those who are not so wealthy. Some of us are quite sure that we are slipping our moorings in regard to what is deemed our natural rights. Others that we are doing what has always been done before. Certain it is that we are seeing some interesting examples of class consideration and some other equally interesting examples of class oppression. As a matter of fact, there...

    • The Death of Francisco Ferrer The Bohemian, December 1909.
      (pp. 37-40)

      If there is one recent significant happening which the American people ought to impress indelibly upon their brains it is the shooting with official sanction at Barcelona, Spain, of Francisco Ferrer, the exponent of modern education in Spain. Ferrer was a philosophic anarchist. That is, he believed that the state is an unnecessary excrescence of comparatively modern growth—that the total abolition of kings, policemen and courts would leave the world free to engage in voluntary cooperation, and that human brotherhood and prosperity would follow. A terrible doctrine, isn’t it? He didn’t believe in assassination. He never assassinated anybody. And...

  3. Part Two: 1911–1928

    • Historical Commentary
      (pp. 43-48)

      Dreiser’s fiction, travel writing, and plays of the 1910s examine, among other things, industrial organization at various levels of society. His interest in the workings of finance capitalism is evident in the first two volumes of the Cowperwood trilogy, The Financier (1912) and The Titan (1914), which fictionalize the career of financier Charles Tyson Yerkes (1837–1905). In response to the industrial conflicts of 1912–13, Dreiser wrote “The Girl in the Coffin,” a play set among labor activists involved in a strike. Centering upon two men torn between their personal feelings and their wider duties to fellow workers and...

    • From “The Girl in the Coffin” Smart Set, October 1913.
      (pp. 48-50)

      You said to me I don’t know how it feels to be a father. You’re right about that, Magnet, dead right. I don’t know. Being the kind of man I am, nobody seems to think I’m entitled to any connection with a family. A court-room or a jail cell is supposed to be the place where my disposition thrives to the best advantage. The only kind of a father I’ve ever had a chance to be you wouldn’t call a father at all. You’d call him a beast, a low-down scoundrel, a man that ruins other men’s daughters. Since my...

    • From “Life, Art and America” The Seven Arts, February 1917.
      (pp. 50-56)

      No country in the world, at least none that I know anything about, has such a peculiar, such a seemingly fierce determination, to make the Ten Commandments work. It would be amusing if it were not pitiful, their faith in these binding religious ideals. I, for one, have never been able to make up my mind whether this springs from the zealotry of the Puritans who landed at Plymouth Rock, or whether it is indigenous to the soil (which I doubt when I think of the Indians who preceded the whites), or whether it is a product of the federal...

    • American Idealism and German Frightfulness August 1917.
      (pp. 56-83)

      For myself, I sincerely fear that our entrance into this war, (selfish and self-aggrandizing as it was and is on the part of England, Germany, Austria, Russia, Italy, and even Romania and Serbia) is a mistake—one of the greatest if not unfair blunders ever made by a great nation. Led by pro-moralistic Puritans and unreasoning Anglophiles, we are at this moment making a spectacle of ourselves, the folly and ridiculousness of which may cost us much, and possibly make us a laughing-stock, if not a slaughter pen, for generations to come. Actually instead of entering this war, we should...

    • From “More Democracy or Less? An Inquiry” Reconstruction, December 1919.
      (pp. 83-87)

      In my personal judgment, America as yet certainly is neither a social nor a democratic success. Its original democratic theory does not work, or has not, and a trust-and a law-frightened people, to say nothing of a cowardly or suborned and in any case helpless press, prove it. Where in any country not dominated by an autocracy has ever a people more pathetically and ridiculously slipped about afraid to voice its views on war, on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the trusts, religion—indeed any honest private conviction that it has? In what country even less free can...

    • Dreiser Sees No Progress New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser, 22 February 1921.
      (pp. 87-89)

      I can truthfully say that I cannot detect in the post-war activities or interests, social, intellectual or otherwise, of the younger or other generations of Americans, poor, rich, or middle class, any least indication of the breaking of hampering shackles of any kind—intellectual, social, monetary, or what you will. The American as I encounter him, young or old, is the same old American, thin lipped, narrow-minded, money centered, interested in the Ten Commandments as they apply to the other fellow, and absolutely blind to everything that would tend to enlarge, let alone vastly extend his world outlook. Here and...

    • A Word Concerning Birth Control The Birth Control Review, April 1921.
      (pp. 89-94)

      I have never been able to understand why anything so obviously beneficial and essential as Birth Control—the knowledge of the means of preventing conception—should need a champion or a movement to foster it. Nature apparently understands the importance of it—or, at least, the pointlessness of waste in connection with life at any level as I will later indicate. And certainly the shrewd and intelligent in all ranks of society are not stopped by religious or moral theory from exercising that care in regard to the number of offspring which they feel themselves decently and intelligently able to...

    • Contribution to “The Rights of a Columnist: A Symposium on the Case of Heywood Broun versus the New York World” The Nation, 30 May 1928.
      (pp. 94-95)

      I have long observed that it is a rare American newspaper or magazine that offers any space to anyone who has a vital criticism of our American life to offer. A soothing prosperity now appears to reduce the American mass to an almost hoggish indifference to everything mental—to look upon as negligible any and all such ills as may affect an unsuccessful minority. The devil take the hindmost. By all means smother the plaintive yowl of the underdog. Whatever else you do, touch on no vital issue. Instead furnish the mob with a constant clatter in regard to sports,...

    • From Dreiser Looks at Russia New York: Horace Liveright, November 1928.
      (pp. 95-106)

      But, have I been converted to Communism? No, not to the brand that is operating in Russia at this time. (Of course, all official Communists explain to you that true Communism has not yet arrived; that the dictum of Marx, father of the present experiment, or whoever invented this slogan, much quoted by all Communists—“From each according to his ability; to each according to his need”—is something to be approximated, not necessarily achieved.)¹

      But why not? Is Communism all wrong? Far from being all wrong, I consider, as I have said, many of its aspects and developments to...

  4. Part Three: 1929–1937

    • Historical Commentary
      (pp. 109-121)

      In response to the economic crisis, labor conflicts, and international tensions of the 1930s, Dreiser increasingly devoted his time and energy to politics. Moving markedly to the left in 1930–31, he campaigned on behalf of some of the most oppressed members of American society and interested himself in radical solutions to economic problems, working closely with groups affiliated with the Communist Party. Until the fall of 1932, Dreiser regarded orthodox communists as effectively the sole advocates of positive change. When the country emerged from the worst depths of the Great Depression, Dreiser allied himself with a range of leftwing...

    • Dreiser Discusses Dewey Plan New York Telegram, 28 September 1929.
      (pp. 121-122)

      Considering the old parties and how they function, one would be justified in having small hope for a new one. As it stands today, it looks to me as though the rank and file the world over needs only to be fed with sufficient data of a given color and texture to make them think and act as the devisers of the data desire. In this connection one thing that interests me is the way that Mr. Coolidge, via a well-oiled press service, is being groomed for a third term.¹ So simple a thing as the washing of the family...

    • John Reed Club Answer Broadside, June 1930.
      (pp. 123-127)

      I have been asked by the John Reed Club of New York to express my opinion concerning the present hysterical and all too savage and unreasonable persecution for economic and political opinion everywhere in America. It is as follows:

      As everyone knows, there has been by now two centuries of economic and social, or as the phrase runs, material development, not only under the leadership of men of science, but of inventors, statesmen and men of genius in the fields of organization and trade. More recently—and here in America particularly—there has been a tendency for discovery—as well...

    • Mooney and America Hesperian (San Francisco), Winter 1930.
      (pp. 127-131)

      I am not at all interested in restating the Mooney-Billings case or why Tom Mooney should be set free. The facts have been so freely rehearsed in the past ten years at least that in one sense they constitute a chestnut. What really does interest me is the indifference—the really Imperial Roman indifference—of almost the entire body of American citizens to any and every type of ill that befalls any and every other than themselves—the voiceless indifference with which they stand by while others fail or fall so long as they themselves are comfortable or are being...

    • On the Communists and Their Platform October 1930.
      (pp. 131-132)

      I believe that the present crisis has revealed the complete inadequacy of the present major political parties. Their unwillingness to meet, or even to acknowledge, unemployment and starvation except for party and political advantage, reveals a corruption deeper than that of the widespread misuse of public funds and the graft which is apparently almost universal. This corruption strikes me as a cynical willingness to represent only the interests of the financially entrenched.

      I believe, too, that the inability of Governor Roosevelt to act decisively in the present revelations of pure political corruption in New York City makes it impossible for...

    • The American Press and American Political Prisoners Daily Worker (New York), 9 May 1931.
      (pp. 132-139)

      What comprises the bulk of the present mass of so-called “political prisoners” in our American penitentiaries? Are they Communist labor organizers? They are! In jail? Yes! But why? If you were to trouble to look you would turn up an interesting fact, and this is that the American newspapers, mostly corporation-owned or directed, scarcely mention these cases, let alone concern themselves deeply enough to let their readers know a whit of the new greatest issue of American economic life—capitalism versus labor!

      In fact, as I see it, it is the Communists, and the Communists alone, who today heed this...

    • Speech on the Scottsboro Case June 1931.
      (pp. 139-144)

      I believe that light may come upon this Scottsboro case only by considering it from the point of view of the Negro question in the large. The Negroes, whom I do not believe to be an inferior race,² were viciously enslaved through outside instigation during the early days of this country. The United States as a whole, particularly the North, felt that holding and driving these humans was not in keeping with advanced standards of freedom, opportunity, and decent living. A tremendous sympathy and humanity welled up for the American Negro! Later, and as a result of the Civil War,...

    • Interview with Nazife Osman Pasha November 1931.
      (pp. 144-146)

      What do I think respecting differences of the intelligence of men and women, their contributions to civilization and the possibilities of achievements in the future?

      I believe there is no difference between the intelligence of men and women. To date, psychologists have offered no convincing data that women are less brilliant than men and vice versa. Of course, it is true that in the large, women have not accomplished as great achievements as men. However, women’s part is not all on the surface. Many women of unusual mental gifts have influenced history vastly more than is realized by reading the...

    • From Tragic America New York: Horace Liveright, December 1931.
      (pp. 147-162)

      The deep trouble with America today is that the gifted and strong individual, however self-centered and selfish and wholly unsocial, is supposed nevertheless, to remain uncurbed because he is part of a presumably wholly social state which was organized to guarantee the right of equal opportunity for all. But equal opportunity for all cannot possibly and by the very same phrase mean unlimited license for the cunning and the greedy who take advantage of that equal opportunity to establish special or, in other words, unlimited individual privileges, and the power that goes with the same, the while the remaining ninety...

    • Introduction to Harlan Miners Speak: Report on Terrorism in the Kentucky Coal Fields New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, March 1932.
      (pp. 162-170)

      The reason that I personally went to the Harlan coal district in Kentucky was because from about June to November 1931, the newspapers of America carried more or less continuous reports of outrages upon the rights of not only the striking miners in that region, but apparently those of all sorts of other people inside and outside the State who sought to interfere in their behalf. I recall reading that representatives of different newspapers and press agencies, the United Press, the Federated Press, and individual newspaper men such as Bruce Crawford,² of Norton, Virginia, were attacked, and in Crawford’s particular...

    • America After 18 June 1932.
      (pp. 171-174)

      The present crisis of the world, and specifically that of the United States, is something more than a mere crisis of politics and economics, and it will not pass with this depression. The reason it will not pass is because the depression is a mere symptom of ills which do not spring from the absence of fat profits and prosperity for a few against the leanness if not actual want of the many, but from the fact that we have come to the place where fat profits and mere money lordship for a few, and enforced financial mediocrity for the...

    • The Child and the School American Spectator, April 1933.
      (pp. 175-176)

      As I see it, the training of children in their social relations—national and international—should be the main function of our public schools. Boys and girls should be made to see themselves as part of a great mass of people with whom they are connected and to whom they are socially, economically and in other ways responsible as co-sharers in all the benefits of that immense mass co-ordination known as organized society. Early and clearly, it seems to me, they should be apprised of its immense ramifications and duties, of which they must be a part, however humble, connected...

    • Editorial Note on the New Deal and Soviet Policy American Spectator, August 1933.
      (pp. 176-176)

      The Editors patriotically note that, whereas President Roosevelt’s proposals in regard to the national control of railroads, banks, industry, farming, shipping, the unification of operations in the purchase of all raw materials, their manufacture and sale, stabilization of prices, uniform accounting, the thirty-hour week or five-hour day, etc., constitute economic and social statesmanship of the first American order, the same proposals and their practical enforcement in Russia constitute the Red Menace and, if advocated here by Communists, involve arrest, imprisonment, fines, expatriation, and deportation.

      Title supplied by the present editors. Attributed on the basis of the editorial policy of the...

    • The “Is Dreiser Anti-Semitic?” Correspondence September–December 1933.
      (pp. 176-188)

      Hutchins Hapgood to the Editors of the

      American Spectator, 4 October 1933

      Editors of the American Spectator

      Gentlemen:

      When I read the Jewish symposium, in the American Spectator, I had a feeling that it was to be regretted. But at first I passed it by with the idea that it was only a sort of editorial amusement—the way editors get together over a cocktail and a little half-serious talk.

      But when I talked to a Jewish friend of mine, a painter, who had never been troubled by the Jewish question, and who had led the life of an artist,...

    • Flies and Locusts Common Sense, December 1933.
      (pp. 188-193)

      Here in the West, as well as in other parts of the world, we still cling to the theory that only by promising the individual unrestricted wealth and privilege against poverty, frustration, and defeat of the many, can we further the development of society. And governmentally we actually proceed to define what type of individual this is to be: the industrialist, the banker, the stockholder, and the investor. Without these, society will fail!

      But throughout history the world has owed its progress more to the impulse to look upon profit as something apart from gold. The satisfaction of inherent humanitarian...

    • “They Shall Not Die” Indicts North as Well as the South New York Evening Post, 24 March 1934.
      (pp. 194-196)

      Criticism of so dramatic and moving a presentation as “They Shall Not Die” must necessarily limit itself to a question of fact: is it a truthful representation or not? In regard to this, there is not only the court record of the trial, voluminous newspaper reports, but better still, the first decision of the United States Supreme Court, which set aside the verdict of the lower court on the ground that a fair trial had not been provided.¹ With this established, there can only remain the matter of bringing this powerful dramatization of this ghastly travesty on justice to the...

    • Contribution to “Where We Stand” International Literature, July 1934.
      (pp. 196-199)

      1. What has the existence and achievements of the Soviet Union meant to you? (What changes were made in your way of thinking and in the character of your creative work by the October Revolution and Soviet construction?)

      I have watched, with the profoundest interest, the inception and growth of the U.S.S.R. To do this, and remain in thought uncolored and in work uninspired by its tremendous and humane concepts and their gradual achievement would, I think, be impossible. I have not, since my first analytical understanding of its processes and results, been anything but despairing of the miserable and degrading...

    • Dreiser Denies He Is Anti-Semitic New Masses, 30 April 1935.
      (pp. 199-200)
      DREISER

      Of course I make a distinction between the classes. I draw a distinction between the Jewish worker and the Jewish exploiter. Everybody knows that I am an anti-capitalist. I identify the interests of the Jewish worker with the interests of all the other workers. What you have just read by Lenin on the Jewish question¹ meets with my full approval. And if my letters are used by the Nazis as propaganda, I repudiate such use. I have no hatred for the Jew and nothing to do with Hitler or fascism.

      My interest in Communism is that it will equitably solve...

    • Contribution to “What Is Americanism? A Symposium on Marxism and the American Tradition” Partisan Review & Anvil, April 1936.
      (pp. 200-202)

      Americanism, as I see it, is an illusion of national individuality, held by the great mass of our people in more or less emotional form, through which ideas of reform, of government, of social systems, of art, etc., can be focused; essentially, it is the emotional, intangible, and often unconscious frame of reference with which most Americans compare whatever ideas they have or come into contact with. Americanism involves the associated illusions of such words as: individualism, the land of the free and the home of the brave, liberty, self-made man, pioneers, this is the best country in the world...

    • Epic Technologists Must Plan National E.P.I.C. Magazine, June 1936.
      (pp. 202-203)

      Technocracy and its leaders seem to prefer the position, mysterious and intangible as it now is, of not aligning themselves with any party with political aims.¹ When some one has waved the magic wand and changed the balance of power in the material situation of the country they will step in and run things.

      However unfortunate their attitude, the facts remain that they have an idea, which is so universally applicable and in many ways so unoriginal, that any plan for social reform, although including the political aspect which Technocracy rejects, is at liberty to incorporate it. And what is...

    • Mea Culpa! The Nation, 17 June 1936.
      (pp. 204-208)

      Dear Sirs:

      Thank you for sending the advance copy of the Stolberg article. I think I have seldom seen such an astute and penetrating discussion of this question. And, what is more, it leaves the commentator little or nothing to say but yes or no. My answer is mostly yes, with a little change in the emphasis of his argument.

      Many people forget that under the heat and storm, the fighting and stress and argument which go with the Jewish question in our present day, there are biological and physiological factors and trends at work which have a far larger...

    • Statement on Russia and the Struggle against Fascism in Spain September 1936.
      (pp. 208-209)

      At this time, when fascism is dragging its net of terror and oppression across the face of Europe, I look to Russia as the savior of justice and equity in the world, and I will greet that day with joy when Russia at last sides openly, and with the force of arms, if need be, with the rights and needs of the workers of Europe. As it stands now, their only refuge and hope of salvation lies in Russian strength, potential and actual, moral and physical. From this side of the world and from what I know of the situation,...

    • Contribution to Symposium, “Is Leon Trotsky Guilty?” Modern Monthly, March 1937.
      (pp. 209-211)

      1. To me, they are very confusing. But somehow they seem characteristic of what might be called the Russian temperament. If it is true that all these confessions were made without undue pressure, and in the spirit of a “confession” then I think that the trials represent a real triumph of the spirit of self-abnegation, of the realization on the part of the confessed conspirators of the enormity of the anti-social activities they had been contemplating and of their own, individual inability to justify themselves and their plans. On the other hand, there are so many strange and curious factors, and...

    • From “A Conversation: Theodore Dreiser and John Dos Passos” Direction 1 (January 1938).
      (pp. 211-212)

      Dos Passos: Five years ago, a great many Americans pretended to be very hopeful about what happened in Russia. I think now because of this terrific terror, because of the fact that the terror has to keep on, and keeps going on, people feel that something is not working there.

      Dreiser: Well, I was strong for Russia and for Stalin and the whole program, but in the last year, I have begun to think that maybe it won’t be any better than anything else.

      Dos Passos: Well, though, look at the achievements of the French Revolution, a great many survived...

  5. Part Four: 1938–1945

    • Historical Commentary
      (pp. 215-222)

      The main focus of Dreiser’s political writing after 1938 was dictated by the international tensions that culminated in World War II. He campaigned against 1930s militarism and on behalf of victims of new military technologies, such as the civilians bombed in Spain and China. Dreiser maintained his support for the foreign policy of the U.S.S.R., frequently defending Russia as the world’s best hope of an egalitarian society. Alongside these issues and campaigns, Dreiser’s political philosophy evolved into its more explicit and multifaceted form, ranging values of “equity,” “humanity,” “mental creativity,” and respect for other cultures against capitalism, material acquisitiveness, imperialism,...

    • War Is a Racket 1937–39
      (pp. 222-229)

      Apart from a really worthy cause that the world in its days of peace would substantiate, war is a racket. With very few exceptions, all wars throughout historic times have been rackets. That is, they have been erratic, selfish plunder plans on the part of individuals or nations, and in both cases, underlying the mood of the nation or the individual making such plans, have been greed and vanity—vanity that only greed, and a determination to brutally frustrate, dominate or destroy one another, that is, either nations or individuals, could explain. You need only to read the story of...

    • Equity between Nations Address before the World Conference for Action on the Bombardment of Open Towns and the Restoration of Peace, Paris, 23 July 1938.
      (pp. 229-234)

      The work of the two American Committees that asked me to come here as one of their representatives is really aimed to abolish war and establish democracy.¹ The phrases “peace and democracy” and “war against war and fascism” actually include the hope of stopping the bombardment of innocent civilians, whether they be women and children or unarmed workers or merchants or professionals in what ever fields they may be. At bottom the campaign is for fair play or legal conduct between antagonists, however just or unjust their antagonisms may be. To this end the Committees I represent seek to arouse...

    • American Democracy against Fascism Speech to the Conference of the International Association of Writers for the Defense of Culture,Paris, France, 26 July 1938.
      (pp. 234-239)

      What is the attitude of the United States toward Fascism?

      I must say first that America is still far from being a democracy. Before President Roosevelt’s election it was wholly dominated by a powerful if not numerous group of financiers that desired, and still does, to rule it fascistically—for itself, its “sixty families”¹ and not for the people. But to disguise its purpose, it speaks of America as a Democracy. And what is slyer, in all of the legal proceedings of each and every one of its corporations and banks it speaks of each one of them as an...

    • Loyalist Spain—July 1938 Address at a Benefit Dinner for American Relief for Spain, organized by the League of American Writers, Hotel St. Moritz, New York, 15 September 1938.
      (pp. 239-250)

      In Spain, for me at least, everything was remarkably interesting—down to the last details of living. I suppose this is partly true because we are all interested in how war affects people. But war makes its own atmosphere—a sort of feeling in the air, which arrives almost instantly after you cross the border from France to Spain. In the car with me were a photographer, entering to make pictures of the fighting, a government chauffeur, my guide, and others. All we strangers confessed to experiencing this feeling at once. It was a sense of impending danger—some dreadful...

    • Statement on Anti-Semitism From “We hold these Truths . . .” Statements on anti-Semitism by 54 leading American writers, statesmen, educators,clergymen, and trade-unionists, March 1939.
      (pp. 250-252)

      Today, world society, because of the illuminating data furnished by thousands of years of social experience, as well as the more integrated and clarifying knowledge of life and how to live it gathered by science, should at least have arrived at, one would hope, the place where it could function without barbarism—these constant resorts to persecution, individual and social murders, or war—and the endless forms of physical and mental cruelty that come from religious or racial prejudices. Personally I do not believe in social torture of any group, or race, or sect for reasons of difference in appearance...

    • The Dawn Is in the East Broadside, November 1939.
      (pp. 253-257)

      Dear Mr. Dreiser:

      The Editors of Common Sense would like from you your opinion as to whether the present war in Europe is likely to end civilization as we know it at this time in America, Europe, and elsewhere.

      Very truly,

      COMMON SENSE

      315 Fourth Ave., N.Y.C.

      No, I do not believe that because of the present storm in Europe (if it is still storming when this arrives) “civilization” is going to wind up on this earth. I should like to say here that that word also has a dubious ring to me—somewhat like that of a counterfeit fifty-cent...

    • From “Civilization: Where? What?” Late 1939 or early 1940.
      (pp. 257-258)

      But really this matter of being civilized or uncivilized on this minute star, the earth, is a most puzzling matter. Bad feeling and war and propaganda aside, there appear to be—in time of peace—a number of quite acceptable “civilizations”—Hindu, Chinese, British, American, Japanese, German—if not Russian, for none of the Western powers (civilizations, I mean—excuse me) appear to be willing to accept sovietized Russia as civilized. It is too kind to the workers—the hand laborer as well as all others—who work or think or invent or lead.

      But apart from these, to me...

    • Theodore Dreiser and the Free Press Broadside, September 1940.
      (pp. 259-263)

      Hollywood, California, Sept. 18, 1940

      EDITOR & PUBLISHER

      1700 Times Building, Times Square,

      New York City.

      WALTER E. SCHNEIDER,

      Associate Editor:

      Your letter of September 9, 1940, outlining the plan of “the newspapers of the nation” to “bring home to America the blessings of her free press” by the “observance of a National Newspaper Week, October 1 to October 7” and selecting me among others for the honorable task of preparing “a brief expression of appreciation of one of the most vital bulwarks of American freedom, an uncensored press” is before me. What between sheer awe of the corporation gall which...

    • From America Is Worth Saving New York: Modern Age Books, January 1941.
      (pp. 263-279)

      We are a peculiar and perverse-seeming people. Balzac said that the death by famine or plague of millions of Chinese was as nothing for the average Western citizen compared with the headache of someone in his own household. That has been more or less true everywhere except in the United States of America, where the exact opposite is the case. Our hearts bleed for the Chinese. We have enjoyed this sensation so much that we long supplied Japan with the iron to torture the Chinese a little more, and the oil to take Japanese planes to the altitudes from which...

    • From “Writers Declare: ‘We Have a War to Win!’” Sunday Worker (New York), 21 December 1941.
      (pp. 279-281)

      The Japanese invasion of the United States of America at dawn on Sunday, December 7, 1941, speaks for itself. I think that President Roosevelt was absolutely correct when he said that they had adopted the thug tactic—of sneaking up with a lead pipe instead of honestly stating their claims and intentions— and that this principle must be knocked out of them, at whatever cost to our nation. You cannot let thugs run loose in ordinary society.

      I think that there is something mentally wrong with any group in any nation that seeks to perform an unsocial act. After all,...

    • Broadcast to the People of Europe Recorded May 1944.
      (pp. 281-283)

      I have just come across the country¹ . . . this great America of ours . . . and I wish you could have been with me. You would have seen, as I did, in railway stations, on trains, in hotels, on the streets . . . an amazing display of youthful vigor, enthusiasm, youthful, yet manly love of country. . . . In sum, millions of the finest type of fighting men, who seek nothing so much as the day and hour when they can try their young strength, their American vitality and brains, their American alertness and inventiveness,...

    • Broadcast to the People of Germany Recorded week of 29 May–3 June 1944.
      (pp. 283-286)

      As an American of part-German descent, I feel strongly about the situation confronting the German people after this war.

      Before the last war, Germans were looked upon as producing some of our best types of citizens. German-Americans are, for the most part, industrious, orderly, socially responsible, recognizing their obligations and taking a constructive part in community life.

      My own father came to this country as an immigrant from the little town of Mayen on the Moselle river in Germany. He and another German, Carl Fischer (who later became head of a music house¹), walked their way westward, peddling small articles...

    • What to Do Free World, March 1945.
      (pp. 286-287)

      With Apologies to Lyov Tolstoy¹

      Storm

      Storm

      Storm

      War

      Want

      Misery.

      And each asking of the other what to do

      And so

      Groups

      Committees

      Government.²

      In the meantime one

      A small-town editor writes the truth about profit and starvation.³ And one knocks at a broken door and when it opens hands in a loaf of bread.

      And one, step by step, all day long, walks to this laborer and that saying united we stand, divided we fall.

      And one, the workers’ friend, says Vote, Speak, for you are the Government, By you your leaders rise or fall.

      And one, the...

    • Theodore Dreiser Joins Communist Party Daily Worker, 30 July 1945.
      (pp. 287-291)

      Hollywood, California

      July 20, 1945

      William Z. Foster,

      New York, N. Y.

      Dear Mr. Foster:

      I am writing this letter to tell you of my desire to become a member of the American Communist organization.³

      This request is rooted in convictions that I have long held and that have been strengthened and deepened by the years. I have believed intensely that the common people, and first of all the workers,—of the United States and of the world—are the guardians of their own destiny and the creators of their own future. I have endeavored to live by this faith,...

    • Interdependence Free World, September 1945.
      (pp. 291-294)

      While a great deal has been said on the subject of scarcity and plenty, abundance, as a basis for national life, has never been tried. Russia has come nearer the actual goal than any other country in the world. But even in Russia, due to enormous natural obstacles, the ideal of abundance for all is still in the evolutionary stage.

      Everything we have today is built on scarcity and the incentive of actual physical need. But this age of scarcity has failed dismally. And, as Willkie pointed out in his worthy book One World we need expansion of trade to...