Ben Stolberg, a newspaper columnist, was the organizer of the American Writers Association, a group of anti-Communist writers from various political spectrums.
September 26, 1946
Mr. Ben Stolberg
222 West 23rd Street
New York 11, New York
Dear Ben Stolberg:
As you know, I am a member of the American Writers Association. You can imagine how strongly I feel about that battle.[*]
I want to give you a bit of information I received—which might be meaningless, or might be a sign of something we should investigate.
I got a letter from a very prominent literary agent in New York. I am acquainted with him personally, and he claims to be a Republican. He writes that he saw my name among those who joined the American Writers Association—and he assures me that New York agents and publishers are solidly on our side. But, he says, they have all agreed “in informal talks”, that we’re not going about it in the right way. They think that we should remove from our leadership the people “who have for many years been labeled rabid reactionaries”, and we should “have the fronting done” by people “who have long been known on the liberal side although never allied with the extreme political left”. He names a couple of names, as examples of what he means by both. I don’t quote the names, because I don’t want to help spread stuff of this kind. He concludes by saying: “I am writing this letter to you absolutely on my own. It is just a thought for what it’s worth.”
What do you make of this?
I am inclined to think that the “I am writing absolutely on my own” indicates the exact opposite. Is there some sort of sneaky movement among New York publishers and agents (of all people!) to sabotage us?
I think this letter could mean one of two things: either it is just the usual kind of Republican timidity, that is, those people really want us to win, but are fool enough to think that we should do it by appeasement, by playing up to the “liberals”, by saying “me, too” to the Communists—just as they thought that the Willkie-Dewey method was the practical one to win an election. If that is the case, we can safely ignore the nasty nonsense.
Page 2 Mr. Ben Stolberg 9-26-46
Or it can mean that there is a secret campaign afoot, a few Communist spark-plugs planted around to use literary agents and publishers—most of whom are befuddled cowards—as stooges for their own purpose. Namely: the agents and publishers undoubtedly do want us to win, so the Communist plants are busy giving them the following advice on how to win: just remove from our leadership all the effective men who are dangerous to the Communist cause (“because they are reactionaries”) and turn the leadership over to some naive, befuddled “liberal” who is open to leftist influence and won’t know how to conduct the fight.
The purpose of such a campaign would be to spread dissension within the American Writers Association, even before it is formed—to spread doubts and timidity among the “middle-of-the-road’ers” (if we have any)—to use these doubters as a pressure group that would try to make us adopt a policy of appeasement, and would try to turn our leadership over to appeasers and compromisers; either to some ineffectual person open to influence—or to an actual fellow-traveller. In other words, to take the Association over just as so many “liberal” organizations were taken over.
I am usually good at smelling out the party line—and it seems to me that that is what’s going on.
But you know much more than I do about the specific cliques, persons, methods and intrigues of the pink intellectual underworld in New York. So I thought I should tell you about this, and ask you to look into it.
I would like to find out whether the letter I received is just an isolated example of personal timidity—or whether other letters of this nature are being sent to our membership as part of a general whispering campaign. If it is this last, we should expose it at once, before it gets going and achieves any results.
The person who wrote me started his letter with: “All this is strictly confidential.” I do not consider myself bound to keep a matter of this kind confidential and thus become an accessory to what may be a Communist campaign. If it’s just his own blundering, I won’t mention his name. But if you find that this is an organized campaign and you need the information, I will give you his name.
Of course, as far as I personally am concerned, if the Association ever adopted such a policy as disavowing the “reactionaries” and featuring the “liberals”, I would resign at once. But I don’t think we’re likely to fall that low.
Please let me know whether there is anything I can do out here to help you fight the battle. Are those of you who started the Association carrying the whole financial burden? Should I offer a contribution? What method of financing our expenses are you planning to have?
Page 3 Mr. Ben Stolberg 9-26-46
With best regards.
*This battle was against a collectivistic plan that would coerce all writers into membership in an organization wherein a “five-man authority would copyright in its own name for the writer’s benefit all material produced, except that done on salary; it would keep records, clear all deals, give legal counsel and lease, but never sell his rights under the copyright,” in the words of a September 13, 1946 front-page story in the New York Herald-Tribune. The controlling organization “would induce publishers and producers to sign basic agreements to deal only with [the organization’s] writers, so that any rugged individualists who attempted to resign to get away from the monopoly would find themselves deprived of a market.” Readers of Atlas Shrugged may notice a similarity to “Point Three” of Wesley Mouch’s draft for Directive 10-289.
Stolberg responded that he agreed that the agent was trying to disrupt the group.