One of the things about which we often chide our politicians is their lack of consistency, and quite often they are inconsistent. However, no instance of American history comes to mind in which our own political figures were so inconsistent as have been those of Russia in recent months. It was only three short years ago in March that the Premier Malenkov, Deputy Premier Beria, and Foreign Minister Molotov were delivering eulogistic orations at the funeral of “good old Joe” Stalin.
Beria has since died of lead in the head and the other two face the twilight of political obscurity if not extinction. Reports are that Bulganin and Khrushchev were silent on the occasion of the funeral. However, the others made up for it. Malenkov said Stalin’s “works will live forever. His name ranks with the greatest men in the history of mankind – Marx, Engels, and Stalin.” Beria chimed in with his “Our party now closes its ranks. It is united and invincible. Great Stalin left us a legacy that will be treasured as the pupil of one’s eye.” While Molotov, not to be outdone, asserted that “This infinitely dear man will live in our hearts forever. The fame of his great works for the good and happiness of the workers of the whole world will live through the ages…” – and thus it went.
Bulganin and Khrushchev now spit on the corpse of the man who was their leader in crimes unspeakable. They rose to high office as members of the Soviet cabinet only by the will and approval of the man they now say they despised. Brave lads? They say they were helpless to speak while Stalin lived. Yet millions of Russians went to death or Siberia because they did resist the living Stalin. One cannot help but wonder how long the brave Russian people will follow these now self-convicted cowards.
And while on the subject of Russia, it might be observed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect, with 600,000 members in 160 countries, is circulating a petition containing two resolutions directed to the powers-that-be in the Kremlin. One resolution requests permission for a delegation of witnesses to visit Moscow to discuss the status of church members in more than 50 slave labor camps. The resolution contains documented accounts of communist mistreatment of witnesses. The other resolution requests Bulganin to set free some 9,000 members of the denomination now imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain. The resolution declares that “We can do nothing else but inform the world about Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russian prisons, penal damps and deportation centers, but we would prefer to be able to tell the world that the government of Russia has ordered witnesses to be freed to work as free citizens and live a calm and quiet life which they believe to be in harmony with “the precepts of their faith.”
It was the Scotch poet Burns who uttered the oft-quoted phrase “O wud some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us.” Well, we got a brief glimpse of something of that sort in the remarks of two English clergymen recently visiting this country under the auspices of the National Council of Churches and the British Council of Churches. Christianity, they found here, is a bit overwhelming to them. One remarked that he wondered whether the church in America is not somewhat frightened by this boom in religion. He went on, “The fantastic interest in church building, church attendance, and education is a strange, alarming phenomenon about which we must not be cynical. It is difficult for people in the United Kingdom not to be cynical about it. Each of us has much to learn and much to contribute …” While his colleague summed up his impression by saying that “It seems to me that there is a great deal of vigor, vim, and virility in American life, which expresses itself in devotion to a competitive free economy. The same spirit, I have a suspicion, displays itself, at least in the externals, in the religious sphere, which to an Englishman seems rather odd at times. On the lighter side, for example, I recall an advertisement which began, “Is any church air-conditioned cool as…?” and members of the congregation were invited to share the delights of an iced fruit drink after the service. The U.S. minister seems to feel he is in a competitive world where other loyalties attract, and that he must ‘sell’ religion…. I have been very impressed with the consequent emphasis on ‘plant,’ on technical efficiency, on grading in Sunday school work … with the willingness of lay people to accept responsibility in terms of finance and service.” This reporter made essentially the same remarks about the current scene some months ago, to which some of you listeners, and quite rightly so if you felt that way about it, took exception.
There has been a great deal in the press in recent days about the after-effects of the steel strike just settled. The workers won a 3-year contract with a boost in wages that will enable them, partly at least, to keep pace with the increased cost of living. Now the steel companies have announced an advance in the price of steel to the tune of some $8 or $10, and the howl that has appeared in the news articles and editorial columns would have one believe that the unions were somehow united in a conspiracy to fleece the American people by demanding exorbitant wages with which to house, feed, clothe, and educate their children. Is it not strange that nothing is said about the real agency responsible for pushing this added cost onto the American public, that is, the operators? The fact is that the steel companies, along with other giants, like General Motors, e.g., have consistently shown higher and higher net profits after taxes and all other expenses have been met, these last 3 or 4 years. According to their own published statements, they are in no sense in financial straits. Yet, in order to keep their profit margin exceptional, and perhaps to disparage labor unions in the eyes of the public, they would have that public believe that they must raise the price of their product to meet rising labor costs. That is only half-truth, and there is a certain degree of morality here, for blame should be assessed at the point of responsibility for it, and that point in this case is the steel companies. Could it be that the newspapers follow along with this line of persuasion because steel companies are more profitable advertisers than are either the unions or the general public?
During the next two weeks the two major parties will be holding their usual quadrennial conventions. In both Chicago and San Francisco millions of words will be spoken and will be channeled into our homes via radio and television. All these words will be designed to catch and hold the fancy of the greatest possible number of voters. Much of what is said, written, and done will be so much eyewash to catch the unwary, but all of us as voters should take what is going on seriously. Four candidates are to be selected, two of whom we shall elect in November to guide the destiny of this nation for the next four years. As voters, we have a solemn responsibility to listen and read carefully what is said, to study just as carefully the contenders in the coming campaign, to try to understand issues, to appraise the candidates, not only in what they say but in what they have previously said and done. We have a right to expect the two parties to take stands on fundamental issues that are sufficiently different that we voters, when we go into the polling booths in November, will be confronted with real choices instead of choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Only in this way can there be a real functioning of our two-party system which is so much a part of our American way of life. We as voters cannot evade our responsibilities; the parties should not be permitted to avoid their own either.