On This Day, 1-4-2009: The God That Failed

January 4, 1950

The God That Failed published

The God That Failed, a collection of essays by six writers and intellectuals who either joined or sympathized with the communist cause before renouncing the ideology, is published by Harpers.

The book provided interesting insight into why communism originally appealed to, and then disappointed, so many adherents in the United States and Europe, particularly during the 1920s and 1930s. The essays also showed that many individuals of good conscience and intentions desperately hoped that communism would bring order, justice, and peace to a world they worried was on the brink of disaster.

The six men who contributed to the book were all writers or journalists. Two were American (Louis Fischer and the African-American novelist Richard Wright); the rest were from Europe (Andre Gide from France, Arthur Koestler and Stephen Spender from England, and Ignazio Silone from Italy). Of these, Spender, Wright, Koestler, and Silone had been members of the Communist Party for varying lengths of time. Gide and Fischer, though they sympathized with the communist ideology, never formally joined the party. Each man, in his turn, eventually turned against communist ideology.

According to the volume’s editor, British politician and essayist Richard Crossman, the very fact that these intelligent and compassionate individuals were drawn to communism was “an indictment of the American way of life,” and evidence of “a dreadful deficiency in European democracy.” All of the writers–particularly during the 1920s and 1930s, when fascism and totalitarianism were on the march and the Western democracies seemed unable or unwilling to intercede–turned to communism as the hope for a better, more democratic, and more peaceful world. Each man eventually broke with the communist ideology, however. Some were disturbed by the Soviet-Nazi pact of 1939; others had traveled to the Soviet Union and were appalled by the poverty and political oppression.

The book, which was published the same year that former State Department official Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury related to his alleged role in a communist spy ring in the United States, was an interesting contribution to the ongoing national debate concerning communism.

The God That Failed published.” 2009. The History Channel website. 4 Jan 2009, 08:51 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2535.

On This Day

1821 – The first native-born American saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton, died in Emmitsburg, MD.

1884 – The socialist Fabian Society was founded in London.

1885 – Dr. William Grant performed the first successful appendectomy. The patient was Mary Gartside.

1896 – Utah became the 45th U.S. state.

1944 – The attack on Monte Cassino was launched by the British Fifth Army in Italy.

1948 – Britain granted independence to Burma.

1951 – During the Korean conflict, North Korean and Communist Chinese forces captured the city of Seoul.

1958 – The Soviet satellite Sputnik I fell to the earth from its orbit. The craft had been launched on October 4, 1957.

1965 – Poet T.S. Eliot died at age 76.

1974 – U.S. President Nixon refused to hand over tape recordings and documents subpoenaed by the Senate Watergate Committee.

1991 – The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

2006 – Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. She was the first woman to hold the position.

January 4, 1796

Congress accepts Colors of the French Republic

On this day in 1796, the House of Representatives accepts the “Colors,” or flag, of the French Revolutionary Republic, proclaiming it “the most honorable testimonial of the existing sympathies and affections of the two Republics.”

In an accompanying message, the French Committee of Public Safety lauded the United States as “the first defenders of the rights of man, in another hemisphere.” The French revolutionaries were eager to link their overthrow of Louis XVI in 1789 to that of King George III in 1776. They viewed the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights as American precursors to their own revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The French wrote that they believed that the citizens of the new United States understood the French Revolution as an extension of a universal fight for freedom begun by the 13 colonies’ war for independence and therefore celebrated every French victory as their own. In truth, however, the new republic was deeply divided over the French Revolution. Future President Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party were impassioned supporters of the revolutionaries, even as they turned to terror as a means of achieving their goals. By contrast, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and the rest of the Federalists looked upon the bloodbath the French Revolution had become with horror.

The French Revolution became a litmus test for Americans as they assessed their own revolution. The Democratic-Republicans believed the Federalist administrations of the 1790s had backed away from the more radical goals of democracy—for white people, at least–espoused during the War for Independence and that the Federalists hoped to simply replace the British aristocracy with an American meritocracy. Jeffersonians, on the other hand, desired equal rights for all men with white skin. Federalists took the outcome of the French Revolution as final evidence that overthrowing the social order as well as the political order could lead to nothing but death, destruction and destitution. So, when Thomas Jefferson won the presidency in 1800, Americans understood it as an endorsement of a revolutionary shift in the philosophy of their government.

Historians consider the peaceful succession of power from Federalist John Adams to the Democratic-Republican Jefferson to be the ultimate triumph of the American Revolution.

“Congress accepts Colors of the French Republic.” 2009. The History Channel website. 4 Jan 2009, 08:54 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=143.


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