Fiorello la Guardia to Eleanor Roosevelt
Fiorello la Guardia to Eleanor Roosevelt
2 April 1947 [New York City]
My dear Mrs. Roosevelt:
I am quite disturbed over the split among progressives in our country. I cannot believe that you can be particularly happy about it.
I do not doubt the good faith and sincerity of all the splendid people who joined with you in the ADA. Nevertheless, it leaves a great many honest, sincere progressives, who have no Communist tinge, who have nothing in common with Communists, entirely out. People like your good self and Wilson Wyatt and Leon Henderson and Chester Bowles and Hubert Humphrey are members of the regular Democratic organizations of your respective states.1 But a great many of us are not dyed-in-the-wool members of any party2 We have, during the past twenty-five years, because of our independent attitude, been able to force good legislation as well as to improved the calibre of candidates. We have never given any party a blanket endorsement in advance.
At the present time, and speaking for myself alone, I note a decided trend on the part of the present Democratic National administration toward ultra-conservatism. I see a shattering and a distortion and a weakening of New Deal principles at every turn. Do not forget that it is but a few weeks that the Republicans have been in control of Congress, so it is hardly fair to blame them for all. They have enough to answer for. But in the last Congress it was with the aid of Democrats in the House and Senate that good laws were weakened and crippled and good bills defeated.
Mention is made in your statement to the Wagner-Ellender-Taft Bill. But the Democrats had the majority in the last Congress. They cannot escape the responsibility for the failure of that bill.3
We can discuss legislation at another time. The important thing now is, what can be done to rally all progressive forces into one group, without being the tail of any one of the two major parties. I, for one, will not take in 1947, sight unseen, the candidates and the platform of either party in 1948. I want to see both, examine, scrutinize and compare. It is too early, as we say in New York, "absolutely and positively" to announce that there will be no third party. It may be necessary to have a third party. I don't know now. I hope not.4 Only machine politicians pledge support so far in advance. Real progressives are not straight party members.
The technique and even the nomenclature of selfish, conservative, money-minded groups seem to have been adopted recently by your group. The brand of Communism is hurled indiscriminately. Do you think that is fair? What is the test of excluding any one from a progressive group? How is a sympathizer or fellow traveler of Fascists and Communists to be identified? In the same breath that reference is made to Communists and sympathizers, objection is raised to the treatment of David E. Lilienthal. Is he not the victim of narrow-minded bigots? Is he not unjustly charged with communistic leaning by the enemies of public ownership of power plants?5 The same can be true of any citizen or any man or woman interested in public affairs.
Only the other day I was testifying before the Banking and Currency Committee of the House on the Taft-Ellender-Wagner Bill, formerly the Wagner-Ellender-Taft Bill, and a representative from Ohio said that the bill was communistic, that it was inspired and sponsored by Communists, that it was intended to destroy free enterprise in our country, that it was un-American and that only Communists were supporting it.6 Does that make Senator Taft or even you or me a Communist?
You made reference to Mr. Henry Wallace. Do you consider Henry Wallace a Communist?7 I do not. Neither would our late President consider him a Communist. I know, for on several occasions he resented the abuse of Mr. Wallace along those lines.
Would you consider the Rev. William Howard Melish, who is interested in maintaining friendly relations with foreign countries, a Communist?8 Would he be eligible to your group?
Would you consider Joe Davies of Washington, who has on many occasions publicly appeared at rallies and mass meetings of the Friends of Soviet Russia, a Communist?9 I know he is not.
Elliott has publicly expressed himself in opposition to the Greek-Turkish situation as proposed to Congress.10 Does that make him a fellow traveler or Communist sympathizer? A great many of us have expressed ourselves. Are we all to be tarred?
Would you consider any group of individuals who are asking for an accounting in their own labor union Communists, just because the group in power does not want to give an accounting?
It has gotten so now that any one who has a difference of opinion or is not in agreement is charged with being a Communist or a friend of a Communist. My dear Mrs. Roosevelt, where will all this end?
Do you not think it possible to have some sort of creed, an American creed, that good, loyal Americans could on their honor subscribe to and accept? Political association cannot be formed on a personal basis. It is formed by agreement on principles and common understanding. Is not the acceptance of a platform and adherence to principle the real test and only qualification?
Should any discrimination be made in feeding hungry children? I know you do not believe that. Some of us have sought to have hungry children fed, regardless of religion or race or politics. Does that prevent us from being good Americans?
It is so easy for one to make a charge against some one he does not like; that fits beautifully into the present picture of those sponsoring a throw-back in our country to the days of 1890.
There is great need in this country for improvement. Our troubles are all economic. Fine talk and pretty platforms are not enough. We are getting away from the New Deal. Much of it has already been destroyed. We certainly will not be able to obtain the objectives of the New Deal—a better, a fuller, a happier life, and economic security—if the progressive forces are divided. The reactionaries see eye to eye. They agree in the House and Senate. Unless there is a strong, independent and progressive movement, there will not be much difference in the platform of the two major parties in 1948. In all likelihood, there will be little difference, other than tonsorial, in the candidates.
On the other hand, if there is a strong progressive movement, and the parties know that we are united and intend to take active part, we would be in a position to render great service to the people of our country. I am quite willing to sit with others and work out a formula under which all honest, sincere progressives could rally.
With kind personal regards, I am
Fiorello La Guardia
TLS AERP, FDRL
ER dictated her reply.11