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Joseph Lash and the CP

In response to:

The Life of the Party from the January 13, 1994 issue

To the Editors:

A question has been raised about my statement that Joseph Lash was “recruited into the Communist Party” in the late 1930s [NYR, January 13]. This point needs clarification.

I was not personally in touch with Lash in that period. I based my statement on the book, When the Old Left Was Young by Robert Cohen, I was reviewing. I now see that I went too far and that my statement needs correction.

Cohen says that Lash wrote in 1937 that he was “ready to take out a C[ommunist] party card,” but there is no indication that he did so. In a lengthy footnote, Cohen also says: in subsequent interviews, Lash maintained that he considered himself “very close to the Communist Party during the Popular Front era but never actually joined the party.” However, Gil Green, then head of the Young Communist League, who worked with Lash, told Cohen that Lash had “joined the CP.” Cohen also says that Lash’s correspondence in 1939 “tends to support his claim of non-membership.” In addition, Lash wrote an unpublished memoir in which he declared that he “expected after leaving the ASU to become a full-fledged dues-paying card-carrying member of the communist party.”

Cohen sums up: “This disagreement over the question of formal party membership should not, however, obscure the more essential point upon which Lash and Green agree: that Lash as ASU executive secretary—the most influential national leader in the student movement—was firmly in the communist camp on all key questions from 1937 to summer 1939.” My personal view is that Lash was so close to the Communist Party in that brief period that “formal party membership” meant little. In fact, I never had a Party card, but I worked on the Daily Worker and that was good enough. In the Popular Front period, the difference between Party members and close, trusted fellow-travelers was not very meaningful. Nevertheless, it should be noted that Lash himself denied “formal party membership,” and I think his statement should take precedence over any other evidence.

Theodore Draper
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey

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