Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal

By Bernard Sternsher | Go to book overview

26. Tugwell and Communism

I

The image of Tugwell which emerges from the various charges against him is that of a revolutionary who aimed to destroy the Constitution and, following the Russian model, impose total economic planning and totalitarianism on the American people. Tugwell's intentions, moreover, were reinforced by the automaticity of the planning-socialism-dictatorship sequence. William Wirt and George Peek contributed broad strokes to this portrait, and there were some detailed lines: Communists in the AAA and the RA, particularly Lee Pressman, and the pinkish, sometimes Red, Progressive party of 1948. Turning to counter evidence which paints a quite different picture, we find in this case, as in nearly all others of its kind, that it takes longer to rebut a charge of subversion than it does to make it. Brief reference to two general points--the planning-socialism- dictatorship sequence and the climate of accusation--is a necessary preface to a rebuttal in specific terms.

Those who assumed that any economic planning automatically led to total planning and dictatorship drew analogies between the histories of certain European nations and made the further assumption that the patterns they saw in European history were universal axioms, that they would apply to all countries, including the United States. David Lawrence drew parallels between the histories of Italy, Germany, and Russia, which was perhaps justifiable at a superficial level--fascism is gangsterized capitalism and communism is gangsterized socialism. There was also some substance to John T. Flynn's contention that the totalitarian systems all sprang from "one great generic philosophy." They did have at least two traits in common: they placed the state above the individual, and they claimed to be riding the "wave of the future," to be in tune with an inexorably unfolding pattern of history. But, as Professor William Ebenstein has pointed out, there are more sophisticated distinctions between the various isms which may be made "through the way of life concept rather than through one particular aspect such as government or economies."1

Ebenstein's way of life approach suggests that Lawrence and Flynn were dealing with effects rather than causes. It was not that totalitarianism inevitably resulted from planning. It was, rather, that the whole planning-socialism-dictatorship sequence resulted from a particular nation's unique nature and historical experience. To deny this was, as Walter Lippmann asserted in 1935, to take for granted "something ex

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