Friday, August 11, 2006

Corliss Lamont: Sydney Hook's letter to Lamont after Khrushchev's secret speech

Oliver Kamm writing on the anniversary of Khrushchev's secret speech,
John Rettie's reference to the rumours of suicide among some delegates who heard Khrushchev's speech reminded me of a letter sent by the great Sidney Hook - pragmatist philosopher, socialist, scholar of Marxism and foe of totalitarianism - to Corliss Lamont. Lamont was nominally also a professor of philosophy (at Columbia), whose contributions to that discipline were nugatory, while his apologetics for Stalin outdid in mendacity almost anyone else on the American Left. Hook wrote to him ten years after the Secret Speech, with Lamont clearly still unable to accept its implications (the letter is reproduced in Letters of Sidney Hook: Democracy, Communism and the Cold War , 1995, pp.289-90):
Dear Corliss,
Voltaire once remarked that everyone has a natural right to be stupid, but that beyond a certain point it was a privilege that should not be abused. Your letter of 30 June replying to my attempt to reason with you has gone far beyond that point. I did not suggest that you hang yourself. Nor did Max Eastman. He merely expressed the fear that you would do so after Khrushchev's revelations of the crimes of Stalin, whom you had so zealously supported against the criticisms of [the philosopher] John Dewey, [the Socialist Party leader] Norman Thomas, and other democratic and socialist thinkers. Your thunderous silence as our charges against Stalin were being confirmed seemed to indicate a state of despair. That you should read this fear as a suggestion on our part is such an obvious projection of your own state of mind that it is tantamount to an acknowledgment. I predict that more revelations about Stalin's barbarities will come to light. The longer you live - and I hope you live a long time because personally I bear you no ill, objecting only to your defense of terror - the greater will be your punishment....
Unfortunately Lamont escaped punishment owing to his having, on the evidence of his long life and voluminous polemical writings, no sense of shame. It is an obstinate problem on some parts of the Western Left.
The classified section of the Communist Party USA's paper would still carry little tributes to Uncle Joe from readers on his birthday well into the 70s. I remember reading them.

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