Norman Thomas

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Norman Thomas in 1937.

Norman Thomas (November 20, 1884December 19, 1968) was a long-time leader of the Socialist Party in the United States, and a six-time candidate for President.

Quotes[edit]

  • When the state seeks to compel a man who believes that war is wrong, not merely to abstain from actual sedition, as is its right, but to participate in battle, it inevitably compels him, however deep his love of country, to raise once more the cry, "We ought to obey God rather than man". He acknowledges with Romain Rolland that he is the citizen of two fatherlands and his supreme loyalty is to the City of God of which he is a builder. Some conscientious objectors may substitute mankind or humanity for God, but their conviction remains the same; only the free spirit can finally determine for a man the highest service he can render.
    • "War's Heretics: A Plea for the Conscientious Objector", in The Survey magazine, August 1917. Reprinted in Arthur Weinberg, Lila Shaffer Weinberg; Instead of violence : writings by the great advocates of peace and nonviolence throughout history. Beacon Press, 1963.
  • The heretic may be very irritating, he may be decidedly wrong, but the attempt to choke heresy or dissent from the dominant opinion by coercing the conscience is an incalculable danger to society. If war makes it necessary, it is the last count in the indictment against war.
    • "War's Heretics: A Plea for the Conscientious Objector", in The Survey magazine, August 1917. Reprinted in Arthur Weinberg, Lila Shaffer Weinberg; Instead of violence : writings by the great advocates of peace and nonviolence throughout history. Beacon Press, 1963.
  • There is the sharp and bitter division between Socialists and Communists, principally on the important question of method and tactics. In general, however, Socialists propose to bring about as rapidly as possible the social ownership of land, natural resources and the principle means of production, thereby abolishing the possibility of the existence of any class on an income derived not from work but from ownership. This does not necessarily mean that no man will have a home he can call his own. His right will rest on use and not on a title deed.
    • "Why I Am A Socialist", Princeton Alumni Weekly, 1928. Reprinted in Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Campbell McMillian, The Radical Reader: A Documentary History of the American Radical Tradition, The New Press, 2011.
  • Fascism glorifies both militarism and war. It is as surely a menace to the peace as to the liberty of mankind.
    • "The Pacifist's Dilemma", The Nation magazine, January 16, 1937. Quoted in Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation 1865-1990: Selections from the Independent Magazine of Politics and Culture. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press,1990.
  • After I asked him [a student] what he meant, he replied that freedom consisted of the unimpeded right to get rich, to use his ability, no matter what the cost to others, to win advancement. No decent society can tolerate that definition.
    • "A Legacy for the Young from Norman Thomas", Life Magazine, Mar 14, 1969
  • We are socialists because we believe we live now in a world that requires a great deal of thoughtful planning ahead of time. We are socialists because we live in a world that is peculiarly interdependent, and to a degree quite unknown in earlier times. [...] We are socialists because we believe in this kind of world - in this anarchy of nations - we need to have a concept that the great purpose of life is to manage our extraordinary scientific and technological achievements and our resources for the common good. It’s not easy and it cannot be the byproduct of a game where everybody seeks the maximum profit for himself, either men or nations in that role.
    • Debate with Barry Goldwater, University of Arizona campus, Tucson, Arizona, November 1961
  • [B]oth the communist and fascists revolutions definitely abolished laissez-faire capitalism in favor of one or another kind and degree of state capitalism. In neither form, fascist or communist, did the masses, through any sort of democratic process, either as workers or citizens, control the basic means of production and distribution .
    • A Socialist’s Faith, W. W. Norton, 1951, p. 55.
  • The similarities of the economics of the New Deal to the economics of Mussolini's corporative state or Hitler's totalitarian state are both close and obvious.
    • Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany, 1933-1939, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, (2006) Metropolitan Books, pp. 28-29.
  • By every test of civil liberty Russian life is at least as much regimented as in the Fascist countries. The press, schools, and radio are if anything more absolutely controlled. ... To strike is as dangerous in Russia as in Germany. . . .
    • As quoted in Norman Thomas: Respectable Rebel, Murray B. Seidler, Syracuse University Press, 1961, p. 187
  • The ultimate values in the world are those of personality and no theory of the state, whether socialistic or capitalistic, is valid, which makes it master, not servant, of man.
    • As quoted in Norman Thomas: Respectable Rebel, Murray B. Seidler, Syracuse University Press (1961) p. 27
  • It is a rather fascist performance, to exclude a man [Thomas] who has been a loyal supporter of Russian recognition from the days when it was dangerous to support that cause in America down to today.
    • Letter to Sir Stafford Cripps, (March 19, 1937), as quoted in Norman Thomas: Respectable Rebel, Murray B. Seidler, Syracuse University Press (1961) p. 181, when the Russian government denied Thomas a visa
  • Stalin's infamous pact with his fellow dictator has at last made the issue plain: His Communism is the ally not the foe of Fascism; the enemy, not the friend of democracy and the worker's cause.
    • Socialist Call, September 2, 1939, p. 3, as quoted in Norman Thomas: Respectable Rebel, Murray B. Seidler, Syracuse University Press (1961) p. 187
  • We are socialists because we believe this income which we all cooperate in making isn’t divided as it ought to be. [...] We do reward men according to deed. We do reward or give to people according to need. No religion would be possible in which that wasn’t done. There are the young, there are the old, there are many whom we have to reward according to their need. But in spite of improvements that have been made, and especially perhaps by my liberal friends who aren't just sure how far to go...we still have a society where there's a great deal of reward not according to deed, not according to need, but according to breed - the choice of your grandfather is very important. And according to the successful greed, which operates not in terms of great contributions to men, but in terms of manipulations of one sort of another.
    • Debate with Barry Goldwater, University of Arizona campus, Tucson, Arizona, November 1961
  • In no way was Hitler the tool of big business. He was its lenient master. So was Mussolini except that he was weaker.
    • A Socialist’s Faith, W. W. Norton, 1951, p. 53. Former presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America.
  • The problem that confronts some of you younger ones – you’ve got to find an alternative to war. War is something men have hated but yet cherished. Out of wars have come profit of various sorts, power, glory. Sometimes out of them has become a defense of freedom. But you will not get that out of the kind of war we fight now with the weapons that our great scientists have given us. We have got to find a substitute for war, and the substitute isn’t surrender.
    • Debate with Barry Goldwater, University of Arizona campus, Tucson, Arizona, November 1961
  • You will keep America out of the hands of communists by what you do here, you will keep it by making it seem unnecessary to the disadvantaged. It has been the New Deal, it has been democratic socialism which has been a major force from keeping the world from communism.
    • Debate with Barry Goldwater, University of Arizona campus, Tucson, Arizona, November 1961
  • All our rulers have said that war is unthinkable, and then we think about it almost all the time. We’ve got to make it unthinkable.
    • Debate with Barry Goldwater, University of Arizona campus, Tucson, Arizona, November 1961
  • For I can assure you that in any war, even if it does not become a world war, I do not think there will be a victor who can do much. There may be one less badly off than the other. One side or the other may have sued first for peace. The destruction will be so great, the moral erosion of the experience will be so great, that it is idle to think you’ll find liberty, walking serenely among the corpses of the dead and the agonies of the dying. There are other things to do than that if we want democracy and freedom to live; there have to be other things to do than that.
    • Debate with Barry Goldwater, University of Arizona campus, Tucson, Arizona, November 1961
  • I shall not stir multitudes, but may persuade my readers when I say that democratic socialism, not sure of all answers, not promising sudden utopias, is the world's best hope.
    • Socialism Re-Examined 1963.
  • Roosevelt's New Deal was not the best alternative, but it certainly was a better alternative than had been offered to the problems of our times, and it was offered with an elan, a spirit that made things go and which tended to lift up people's hearts. In retrospect, I wouldn't change many of the criticisms I then made. Yet the net result was certainly the salvation of America, and it produced peacefully, after some fashion not calculated by Roosevelt, the Welfare State and almost a revolution.
    • Interview in 1967. Quoted in Harry Fleischman, Norman Thomas; a Biography: 1884-1968: With a New Chapter - The Final Years. Harry Fleischman, Norton, 1969. Also quoted in Alden Whitman, Come to Judgment, Penguin Books, 1981.

Attributed[edit]

  • The struggle against demagoguery scarcely fits the St George-against-the-dragon myth. Our democratic St George goes out rather reluctantly with armor awry. The struggle is confused; our knight wins by no clean thrust of lance or sword, but the dragon somehow poops out, and decent democracy is victor.


Misattributed[edit]

  • The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of "liberalism" they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.
    • Reagan biographer Lou Cannon noted that this was a suspect quotation, and that he could find no evidence of it. Thomas did say that both major political parties had borrowed items from the Socialist Party platform.
    • Cannon, Lou. Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power. New York: PublicAffairs Books, 2003. ISBN 1-586-48030-8 (p. 125).

Quotes about Thomas[edit]

  • Political activism is about what you do; a counterculture is about how you live and look at the world, and the two do not necessarily overlap at all. Thus, Jack Kerouac, the great countercultural of the '50s, was somewhat to the right of Joseph McCarthy; while Norman Thomas, the best-known socialist of the same decade, was as straight as Thomas E. Dewey.
  • Truly, the life of Norman Thomas has been one of deep commitment to the betterment of all humanity.
    • Martin Luther King, "The Bravest Man I Ever Met", Pageant Magazine June 1965. Reprinted in Cornel West, ed.,The Radical King, Beacon Press, 2016.
  • [Norman Thomas] great fear at this juncture in history was not that Roosevelt himself would lead America to fascism, but that his ‘ideal’ of ‘capitalistic collectivism’ could set the stage for it. The President, he argued, ‘in the best sense of the word, is an aristocrat’ whose ‘accent’ alone would disqualify him as a potential Fascist leader.
    • Murray B. Seidler, Norman Thomas: Respectable Rebel, Syracuse University Press (1961) p. 117
  • I now see Norman Thomas as indeed a liberal, but as a real, old-fashioned, unreconstructed liberal who believes in freedom and justice for everybody.
    • Dwight Macdonald, quoted in Discriminations: Essays and Afterthoughts. Da Capo Pres, 1974.

External links[edit]

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