Sunday, 11 April 2010

Blasts From the Past ; Angus Cameron on McCarthyism

Blasts from the Past will be pretty much what the title implies, a series of quotations from books and articles, largely taken from my own collection, which for one reason or another I think may be of interest for others.


Angus Cameron was for many years publisher-in-chief at Little, Brown, having previously worked at Bobbs-Merrill. He was noted for his progressive views, but according to the UK newspaper The Independent, was not an idealogically-minded person. 

In 1951 he came under fire from a US-based organisation named The American Legion, who claimed Little, Brown were publishing a disproportionate number of  left-wing writers. Cameron was championing a wide range of writers and indeed had friends across the political spectrum, but as the McCarthy era dawned, the accusations continued (I don`t propose to taking up too much time discussing McCarthyism - for the uninitiated there is a reasonable explanation of the term on Wikipedia).
Cameron`s bosses put pressure on him to abandon his progressive activities. He refused, and resigned from the firm. Shortly afterwards he formed a new company, Cameron and Kahn.  His business partner, Albert Kahn, was a noted left-winger and opponent of McCarthyism, suspected by many (with some justice) of having pro-Soviet views. Perhaps inevitably, Cameron soon found himself summoned to defend himself before the Jenner Committee, a McCarthyite investigative body.

Left-wing magazine Masses and Mainstream published his statement to the Committe in their June 1953 issue. Like Cameron`s choice of business partner, the choice of M and M as his vehicle was perhaps a little provocative. The openly pro-Soviet periodical represented both the best and the worst of the American left of it`s day, a question we will be returning to in later articles.

Cameron began by deploring "the atmosphere of hysteria" leading to the inquiry, pointing out that "Congress has no right to legislate and therefore no right to investigate...the rights of free speech and free press". However, he continued "I welcome the chance to make a statement about the committee and its works."

Indicating that he regarded the various McCarthyite committees as "inquisitional", he expressed the view that they were acting "illegally" by "investigating into the political beliefs, affiliations and associations of American citizens, not in order to search out subversion, but actually to intimidate and terrify the people, to silence democratic criticism not only of these committees themelves, but of the policies and action of the administration."

"As a book publisher," he continued, "In consider that I have a special function to oppose these activities since they attack the right of the people to say and print what they believe without fear of smear or persecution.

I believe that the freedom to explore through books the real world around a freedom which cannot be limited in the slightest degree."

After expanding further on his thoughts, he commented "I welcome the chance to add my voice to the rising tide of opposition to this committee and the thinking in the administration which makes it possible. I am glad to express my confidence that the people of this country will soon discover the true purposes of the witch hunt and sweep it they have swept away similar practises in the past."

In conclusion, he stated "I am proud of the books which I have had a part in publishing, of the organisations which I joined or supported, and of the educational ventures in which I participated...I intend to continue my activities for books, causes and organisations in which I believe, regardless of disapproval of this committee. My own knowledge based on study, my own observations of the real world around me, and my own conscience based on convictions will continue to determine my actions whatever this committee may think or do to the contrary."  

Subsequently, Cameron took over the running of the left-wing Liberty Book Club, before eventually being hired by Knopf. He began work at Knopf in a fairly minor editorial postion, apparently, but rose to become vice-chair of the company.  He was the author of a number of books in his own right, mostly reflecting his love of the outdoors and fondness for cookery.

There are few sources on the web concerning Cameron, and they do tend to contradict each other. I`ve largely drawn on John Calder`s obituary of Cameron for The Independent (5 December 2002) as it seemed to be the only one penned from the persective of someone who knew him personally. Calder describes Cameron as a `liberal` rather than a leftist, though it is clear he had left-wing connections, including some contact with the American Communist Party.


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