The American Forum

The American Forum

I think it is altogether appropriate, and to me welcome, that Irving Howe has stated his views on “American Forum” frankly, openly and without equivocation. It is doubly welcome that he also writes “without rancor” and without ruling people like Sid Lens and myself out of the circle of his friends.

That “American Forum” should receive the attention it has—quite out of line with the size of the undertaking or the number of persons involved in it—and that it should be so seriously criticized seems to show that some sort of “nerve” has been touched, a crucial issue laid bare. Whatever that issue may be precisely and regardless of what happens to American Forum, I feel confident that the controversy is fundamentally a good thing and was probably necessary, in any case unavoidable as part of the process of discussion involving all elements which has to take place, as those who do not accept the status quo seek to determine where they are and where they want to go. I am sure the discussion is going to go on despite anything any of us may do or decline to do.

The nub of the criticism of “American Forum” is this. In attempting to set up some simple structure so that the discussion may involve others than people like ourselves who edit and write articles for magazines and get down to something more useful than an occasional mass meeting where exponents of various tendencies repeat their well-known views and throw a few loaded questions at each other, the Forum has taken two members or “leaders” of the C.P. on a National Committee of some forty members.

This was done pursuant to a policy of “non-exclusion” under which Communists would have their views subjected to the severest criticism and could remain in “American Forum” only on that condition. That this condition might be fulfilled, Irving Howe and other DISSENT Editors, as the former points out in his article, were invited to come on the National Committee. It was and is a matter of regret to that Committee that they declined.

The possibility that with too narrow a base such a project as “American Forum” might be distorted into a “respectable cover” etc. for the C.P. is certainly not something to dismiss cavalierly. That it could have been thought of as serving that purpose by people who were eager to have such persons as Irving Howe and Norman Thomas join the project or that, with people like that active in it, it could have been distorted to serve such an end seems to me absurd. This aspect of the situation seems to me to deserve much more thought than I think has been given it by anti-Communist intellectuals.

That C.P. leaders could not rightfully be admitted to a movement for united action or “socialist regroupment” is my present, as it has been my past, position. But “American Forum” is not a united front of p...