George Sokolsky

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George Ephraim Sokolsky (1893–1962) was a weekly radio broadcaster for the National Association of Manufacturers and a columnist for The New York Herald Tribune, who later switched to The New York Sun and other Hearst newspapers.

Biography[edit]

Son of a Russian émigré rabbi, Sokolsky was born in Utica, N.Y. He graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism. In February 1917, Sokolsky was attracted by the February Revolution and went to Russia to write for Russian Daily News, an English-language newspaper. After the overthrow of the Kerensky government by the Bolsheviks, he became disillusioned with the revolution. His Columbia classmate Bennett Cerf was to observe many decades later: “Suddenly the flaming radical, Sokolsky, became the flaming reactionary, George Sokolsky, and one of the most important columnists in the United States of America.” [1] He fled to China, landing with one Yankee dollar in his pocket, to continue his work as a special correspondent for English-language newspapers such as St. Louis Post-Dispatch and London Daily Express. and acted as an informant and propagandist for sundry conflicting Asian and Western clients, including Cen Chunxuan. He broke a social taboo by marrying a woman of mixed Caribbean-Chinese blood. Sokolsky became political adviser and friend to Sun Yat-sen, and wrote for his English-language Shanghai Gazette. He also befriended colorful characters that ranged from “Two-Gun” Cohen to Soong May-ling, and identified Chiang Kai-shek as “the only revolutionist in China who could make the revolution stick.” (See Daniel S. Levy, Two-Gun Cohen: A Biography, St. Martin’s Press, 2002, pp. 117ff.)

Sokolsky’s 14-year long stint in China enabled him to hold himself out as an expert on Asian matters upon his repatriation to the U.S. His experience of Chinese culture was tinged with ambivalence: “Perhaps in no other city does so much human energy go into the search for amusement as among the foreign population of Shanghai. Ladies go to their amusements with even greater avidity. Work at home can always be done by boys and amahs and club life becomes the center of one’s aims and ambitions. Dinner parties at clubs and hotels, night after night of dancing and jazz, turn the sweet girl who comes here to marry a man out East into a tired matron while still in her thirties: blasé, wearied and uninterested in life.” Sokolsky went on to complain about the corrosive effect of the “foreign exchange” upon the younger Chinese: “It would seem that every foreign vice and extravagance has its votaries among the younger Chinese in Shanghai who, meeting largely with the wider elements of the foreign population, copy their lust for pleasure as though it were the hallmark of modernity.” (Quoted by Stella Dong in Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City, 1842-1949, Harper Perennial, 2001, p. 229.)

It was in China that Sokolsky inaugurated his lifelong association with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). After returning to the U.S. in 1935, Sokolsky strongly sided with NAM in touting its conception of the American Way of Life. NAM followed the New Deal in laying claim to “the greatest good for the greatest number." Sokolsky encouraged NAM to reach out and awaken the passions of the American middle class in opposition to the “collectivistic” current of the New Dealers. In the NBC Radio Network program America's Town Meeting of the Air, he argued against Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’ defense of the Social Security Act, calling the 10% of the taxes that the Federal Government kept, while remitting 90% back to the states that were compelled to conform to a standard of minimum requirements for administering Social Security set by the Federal Government, “a service charge for coercion”. Sokolsky toured the U.S., writing and making, speeches as an “industrial consultant” on behalf of NAM. The Senate’s La Follette Committee on Civil Liberties reported in 1938 that for his speaking engagements and other work he was paid nearly $40,000, through publicity firm Hill & Knowlton, by the NAM and the Iron and Steel Institute. He encapsulated his political philosophy in personalized slogans: “I do not like coercion in any form. I prefer spontaneous enthusiasms.” Sokolsky wrote signed columns attacking the Roosevelt administration for its failure to support Kuomintang.

Sokolsky became a vocal supporter of Senator Joseph McCarthy, an intimate of J. Edgar Hoover, and a close friend of Roy Cohn, who eventually dedicated to him McCarthy, his sympathetic study of his former employer. The Korean War entrenched him in his suspicions of a vast anti-American conspiracy. In one of his columns he asked, “If our far eastern policy was not betrayed, why are we fighting in Korea?” In his newspaper column Sokolsky supported the right wing of the Republican Party. He wanted either Robert A. Taft or Douglas MacArthur to get the Presidential nomination in 1952, and frequently criticized the Eisenhower Administration.

In 1951, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the convictions of contempt of the United States Congress against the Hollywood Ten, who had argued unsuccessfully that their First Amendment protections prohibited Congress from asking about their political activities. Thereupon, American Legion presented the movie studios with a list of some 300 people, meant as a de facto blacklist. Those listed were given an opportunity to exonerate themselves by answering the charges against them in a letter. If the blacklisted artists refused to write a letter, they were fired. The studios submitted the letters from those who cooperated to the American Legion. The American Legion passed judgment on the acceptability of excuses, referring problematic cases to Sokolsky. As its “clearance man”, Sokolsky worked pro bono on rendering a final decision on clearing the letter writer from the blacklist, either on his own or in consultation with Hollywood union leader Roy Brewer and/or actor Ward Bond, respectively the first and the second presidents of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Artists who failed to meet the standards of political correctness were consigned to unemployment. [2] Nevertheless, blacklisting proceeded with a measure of even-handedness. According to Victor S. Navasky, “Newspaper columnists such as George Sokolsky, Victor Riesel, Walter Winchell, Jack O'Brian, and Hedda Hopper were as happy to fill their spaces by getting the deserved off the list as by putting the blameworthy on.” (Naming Names, Hill and Wang, 2003, p. 89.)

Sokolsky denounced the exposure of McCarthy on See It Now, broadcast on March 9, 1954 by Fred W. Friendly and Edward R. Murrow, in his Hearst newspaper column. Later on that year, Time Magazine characterized Sokolsky in the words of one of his friends, as one who “can be called the high priest of militant U.S. anti-Communism.” Sokolsky never relented in his animadversions against world communism and its self-appointed standard bearer, the U.S.S.R. In February 1962, Sokolsky startled his readers by asserting that “if Khrushchev falls, we shall have immediate war.” [3] During the Cuban missile crisis, he advocated a vigorous American response, asking: “Do we have to stand still until Soviet Russia has established a missile and submarine base in Cuba?” At a dinner laid on in his honor in 1962 by the American Jewish League Against Communism, Sokolsky, found a bright side to Russia’s heavy-handed treatment of its Jewish citizens, pointing out: “It is inevitable that a movement based on atheism be anti-Semitic. The Communists must hate us. We want them to hate us. It gives us pride and dignity that we don't count them among our friends.” [4]

Sokolsky died aged 69, of a heart attack, in Manhattan.

External links[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • An Outline of Universal History, The Commercial Press, 1928
  • The Story of the Chinese Eastern Railway, North-China Daily News & Herald, Ltd, 1929
  • The Tinder Box of Asia, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1933
  • Labor's Fight for Power, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1934
  • We Jews, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1935
  • Platform pioneering by the N.A.M., National Association of Manufacturers, 1937
  • The American Way of Life, Farrar & Rinehart, 1939
  • Is Communism a Menace? A debate between Earl Browder and George E. Sokolsky, New York, New Masses, 1943
  • The Reminiscences of George Sokolsky, Oral History Research Office, Columbia University, 1972