DECEMBER 19, 1955
HYDE PARK—I had the privilege the other day of attending the luncheon given by the National Religion and Labor Foundation at which they presented their annual social justice award to George Meany and Walter Reuther, leaders of the newly merged AFL-CIO. I have the greatest respect for both these men and recognize that they have well earned any award that comes to them. But with the great power which now will lie in their hands there also goes the need, I think, to bear constantly in mind that whatever you say has far-reaching effects.
Mr. Reuther's speech was an appeal for high ethical standards which stirred his listeners deeply.
Mr. Meany warned liberals in this country that they should not fall into the error of McCarthyism in reverse and appear to be too soft in their fight against Communism. I agree with him; but I think Mr. Meany must remember that he is now speaking not just to the U.S. and Europe but to the whole world as well. He must therefore remember that there are areas of the world where Communism means something different from what it does to us here. The educated have dealt with it as a theory, not as something which is actually being put into practice, and they have failed to be close enough to the development of Communism in the Soviet Union to know what the practice of Soviet Communism means. Therefore the approach to understanding in those countries must be different, and far more patience is probably required in bringing ultimate understanding.
It is a sad mistake, for instance, to give the impression to the people in India that their Prime Minister, because he wishes to remain neutral between the Soviet Union and the U. S., must therefore be a Communist. Nehru is trying to keep his country a democratic one, and when we consider his neutrality we must remember our own for many years. We are going to live in the world with Communist countries, and we must learn to differentiate and to seize upon every opportunity to bring greater freedom and improve Communism in any area of the world where there is a chance of making any changes. This is so in Yugoslavia. It may someday be so in China. We can only hope and watch our opportunity. It is a mistake for an important person like Mr. Meany to make an untrue statement about the leader of another great country, for it may make it far more difficult for our free trade union movement to be of assistance to the weak trade union movement of India, where they need the assistance very badly.
There was a certain lack of recognition in this speech also that leadership requires an acceptance of one's own shortcomings and a constant effort to improve at home. I think I am fully conscious of all the dangers of Communism and more alert to them than many who have not had the opportunity of working with the Communists. Nevertheless, as leaders in the world we must not allow ourselves to be frightened into exaggerated statements which can only antagonize, and cannot help us build friends for our own desired aims of freedom and justice.