"Radical Autocracy"


(Ed. Note--The Crimson does not necessarily endorse opinions expressed in printed communications. No attention will be paid to anonymous letters and only under special conditions, at the request of the writer will names be with-held.)

(Ed. Note--Mr. Hartshorne's letter, printed below, is a reply to a letter printed in the CRIMSON on Thursday, May 12, under the title "Radical Autocracy." The letter was signed by V. H. Kramer '35, and criticized the action of the Liberal Club in the Berkman Case.)

To the Editor of the CRIMSON:

In reply to Mr. Kramer's first charge allow me to refresh his memory regarding the resolution which demanded the release of Miss Berkman. In the first place it was not drawn up by myself, but was proposed from the floor. As chairman of the meeting I referred it for a vote. An objection was raised that because of the polyglot nature of the group it would be misrepresentative to let the Liberal Club speak through this vote, whatever it might be. The chairman accepted this meeting and the resolution was rephrased to read, "At a meeting called by the Harvard Liberal Club the following resolution was adopted ...." In this form it was passed and sent to the press. Whoever "promulgated" it as "the definite opinion of the Harvard Liberal Club" was inaccurate. Any member of the club not present at this meeting may have the subtle satisfaction of considering himself exempt from this expression of viewpoint if he so desires. However, the point is a sophisticated one and may be overlooked in a majority of cases. The same procedure was used at a "special meeting" on the Sino-Japanese crisis, and the same procedure will be used at future Liberal Club meetings where the subject is one which seems to warrant collective action on the part of those addressed.

Mr. Kramer's second charge, if I understand him correctly, raises two issues: (a) the power of the Liberal Club's Executive Committee to speak for the Club in public controversy, and (b) the exact relation between the Liberal Club and other student organizations such as the National Student League.

In regard to the first point the officers are elected at a general meeting of the Club at which only members can vote. They are chosen to represent the Club as a whole. In matter of controversy it is quite impossible that a general meeting be called before any step is taken by the officers; therefore it has been the practical Club policy to function as an "autocracy" if anyone wishes to use this term. The only extant Constitution of the Liberal Club was created in 1920 and was last amended in 1928 and until a new one is framed there shall have to be, I am afraid, a transitional period minus "authority."

But can the Liberal Club be called a "radical autocracy"? To clarify the issue let me quote from the "Program" of the National Student League adopted March 30, 1932. "9. We propose to expose the sham of 'democracy', the failure of 'representative government' to represent the interests of the working class under capitalism, the widespread denial of elementary rights of free speech, press, and assemblage to workers, and the violent repression of working class struggles. 10. We propose to participate in the struggle of the working class by popularizing working class issues, by lending active and financial support to their struggles and to concretize this support wherever possible by joining picket lines, collecting relief, participating in demonstrations, etc."

"Radical" is a relative term. But it seems to me quite clear that anyone who knows the programs of the two organizations would hardly confuse the policies of the Liberal Club and the National Student League. The first was founded in 1919, to be guided by the "animating" ideal of "the open mind," and has since then only rarley become actively involved in struggles that concern the "outside world." The National Student League, however, was born of the depression, among the students of our large city colleges where economic pressure on the undergraduates is strongest. Harvard has proved so far to be barren soil for this radical plant. The American university man is in general apathetic in activity of social reform, reconstruction, and revolution when compared to his less well padded European or Asiatic brother.

Now if I may speak for myself (out of courtesy to Mr. Kramer) what the Liberal Club needs is a redefinition of its "animating ideal." The world of 1932 is not the world of 1919, and a student club has no existence apart from the members and material paraphernalia that belong to it. What the coming year will bring no one would be so rash as to prophesy now. In the meantime let us keep an "open mind" about Liberal Club policy. The world does not stand still. E. Y. Hartshorne, Jr. '34.