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Haunting

In response to:

Research from the September 8, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

Theodore Draper, whom I’ve never met, evidently intends to make a career of haunting me. His letter in your September 8th issue, setting forth rather churlish reasons for not reviewing my book Radicalism in America, is the third dispute we’ve had in print the last couple of years.

I’m beginning to suspect that Draper doesn’t like me. Perhaps it’s because we disagree so sharply on foreign policy. Draper, though he opposed US intervention in the Dominican Republic, is nonetheless a supporter of the State Department position, particularly as it relates to Cuba and Castro. I, as some of your readers know, am a pacifist, fundamentally opposed to American foreign policy.

I assume though that writers can disagree on political goals without becoming subjective. There is a degree of personal pique in Draper’s letter that is unworthy of anyone, let alone a competent writer. He can’t review my book, he says, because I haven’t given him credit for some material taken from his book, The Roots of American Communism. Specifically he lists only two points, that I described an early Communist leader, Louis Fraina, as “puny” when a boy, and given to reading Jack London and Upton Sinclair. These two facts, says Draper, I couldn’t have gotten except from his book.

It happens that I knew Louis Fraina (Lewis Corey) personally, long before Draper began writing his book. We were not exactly friends, but Fraina respected me as a militant unionist, he gave me autographed copies of two of his books, and he discussed with me on a number of occasions both his own history and that of the Communist movement. It is a fact too that I’ve been writing books and articles on Communism since 1949. My first book, Left, Right and Center, published in 1949, had a long section on Communism in the US. My second work, in 1952, The Counterfeit Revolution, was exclusively devoted to international Communism. The implication that I have no background on this subject reflects more on Draper’s egotism than my knowledge.

In all fairness, Draper might have pointed out that Radicalism in America is a 372-page book, dealing with radicals from 1620 to 1966, a span of 346 years. His own book covers only a span of a decade. I fear, however, that his letter left the false impression that his was the major source of my work. I can assure you it was neither major nor minor. I can assure you too that regardless of any political differences, I did not intentionally slight him. In my bibliography—which at the last moment my publisher, Thomas Y. Crowell Co., left out—I duly listed Draper’s work, amongst others.

I would deny also that even if my knowledge of Fraina’s size and reading habits came exclusively from Draper it was incumbent on me to write: “Louis Fraina, who according to Theodore Draper, was a small boy…” You attribute to another author when there is a matter of opinion of judgement involved, or when you quote from him directly, or when he presents information that is not yet verified by anyone else.

All of this, I’m afraid however, is irrelevant, for what bothers Theodore Draper is not my book—but me. Note for instance how he misinterprets a small point. I wrote in Radicalism in America that present-day Communists have never heard of Fraina. Anyone reading the paragraph on page 266 will see clearly that I’m referring to the fact that the Communists have erased this critic from their history. Instead of this interpretation Draper chooses to believe that few people have read his book, that it did not sell well and that therefore few people learned about Fraina. This is as ingenious a bit of masochism as you and I are likely to come upon for a long time!

Generally speaking, conservatives who have reviewed Radicalism in America have been critical of my claim that radicals played a major role in US history. Radicals and liberals on the other hand have praised it for the same reason. It would have been interesting getting Draper’s view, and I’m sorry, as others must be, that he chose to waste his time and research continuing a vendetta against me rather than devoting his talents to assessing the history of American radicalism. I regret too that this long delay may also preclude your reviewing this work, for like all authors, I’m egotistical enough to believe it is important.

Sidney Lens

Chicago

Theodore Draper replies:

Haunting Mr. Lens is not my idea of a career: nor is a career necessary in order to haunt him. Mr. Lens seems to have forgotten that he was responsible for provoking the first quarrel with me in the June-July 1964 issue of Liberation. Twice more recently, he came to my attention for reasons that had to do with my work…. My concern is solely with some of the things he has written, which I dislike for reasons that have nothing to do with personal pique.

  1. Since Mr. Lens suspects that differences on foreign policy are back of his troubles with me, I may be permitted to comment on this “dispute” first.

It is utter rot to say that I am or have been a supporter of the State Department position on Cuba and Castro. In my first book. Castro’s Revolution, a chapter on the Bay of Pigs fiasco began: “The ill-fated invasion of Cuba in April, 1961, was one of those rare politico-military events—a perfect failure” (p. 59). In my second book, Castroism, I made clear my view that “the frame of reference in the United States for the past five years” has been the choice between political bankruptcy and military adventurism” (p. 248). This is “support”?

Something else is bothering Mr. Lens. He seems to belong to a school of thought which believes that one must support Castro or the State Department; one cannot be critical of both. This type of reasoning is profoundly repugnant to me. I refuse to support Fidel Castro because the State Department may like what I have said against him, just as I refuse to condone our Dominican policy because the enemies of the State Department may like what I have said against it. This is the underlying basis of the true difference between Mr. Lens and myself on this issue.

Incidentally, what in the world is a pacifist doing in Fidel Castro’s camp? Castro’s political raison d’être has always been his advocacy of revolutionary violence. Mr. Lens’s selective “pacifism” is like a reflex which operates only against the United States but never against the political movements with which Mr. Lens sympathizes. Pacifism is total or it is nothing; this phony pacifism is merely a form of fellow-traveling with a certain kind of anti-U.S. violence, which may conceivably be defended but not on pacifist grounds.

  1. My second dispute with Mr. Lens had to do with his story in The Nation of May 2, 1966, that McGeorge Bundy had demanded “concentration camps” for Dominican Communists in May 1965. I protested against this distorted version of a highly delicate, complicated incident which I had tried to investigate with some care. In an exchange of letters in The Nation of July 11, 1966, Mr. Lens again abused me as “a leading apologist for U.S. policy in Cuba,” and expressed the suspicion that this was what really bothered me in my misguided effort to make a “good guy” out of Mr. Bundy. The connection between Cuba and Bundy was not altogether clear to me, but this notion that I have been an apologist—more, a “leading apologist”—of the United States’ Cuban policy has clearly become an idée fixe with Mr. Lens. If he is wrong in this, he is wrong in all his suspicions about my motives and convictions.

More recently, I have received a letter from Juan Bosch repudiating Mr. Lens’s attack on Mr. Bundy. The former President of Costa Rica, José Figueres, who figured prominently in Mr. Lens’s account, has written me: “Mr. Sidney Lens is a fine fellow, but as a historian he seems to be a good novelist. Imagine me saying to Rosario that ‘President Johnson recognizes that he has made a terrible blunder!”’ And Dr. Antonio Rosario has sent me a letter which clearly indicates that he was Mr. Lens’s chief informant. On the main point at issue, Dr. Rosario admits that he cannot vouch for Mr. Bundy’s alleged demand for concentration camps because he was not in Santo Domingo in this period and has no first-hand knowledge of what went on in the negotiations with Mr. Bundy.

This is not the place to put the Bundy mission in proper perspective. I merely wish to explain why I felt it necessary to warn against Mr. Lens’s version of the Bundy mission: I felt that I had assumed some responsibility by having already written about it; I was interested solely in the subject and could not care less about Mr. Lens personally.

  1. It would not be necessary to say much more about the present dispute with Mr. Lens if the reader could have my original letter in front of him. Since this is unlikely, I cannot allow Mr. Lens to rewrite me even here.

It is sheer misrepresentation for Mr. Lens to pretend that I listed “only two points” for which he hadn’t given me credit. I gave these two examples as typical of two whole pages taken by Mr. Lens from my book. In these pages Mr. Lens borrowed from virtually every sentence; in other pages, he helped himself to bits and pieces.

That Mr. Lens knew Lewis Corey personally or received autographed copies of his books is ludicrously beside the point. Many others knew Corey even more intimately. I have spoken with many of them and in no case was he willing to confide much to them about his past, of which he was understandably reluctant to speak. It happens that I never met him personally, but the writing of history or biography is not dependent on personal acquaintance. The materials made available to or found by me enabled me to tell a story which even his most intimate friends knew only hazily and apocryphally.

Mr. Lens wrote: “Communist histories, if they mention him at all, do so only in derogation, and it is doubtful if more than a handful can identify him.” Mr. Lens now tells us that this means “present-day communists have never heard of Fraina.” If this is what Mr. Lens intended to write in his book, he has only himself to blame for expressing himself so poorly. “More than a handful” does not necessarily refer only to present-day Communists; it is much more likely to be read as referring to a handful of people or of readers. In any event, present-day Communists may not be able to read about Fraina in Communist histories but more than a handful even of them might be able to identify Fraina by reading other histories of American Communism. I have good reason to believe that more than a handful of Communists read my book.

This is an evasion of the issue. Mr. Lens is not yet ready to own up that he simply rewrote pages of my book for one of his chapters. This is the question, not my views on Castro or the autographed copies of Corey’s books.

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