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Daily Worker
October 26, 1948, p.12

Howard Fast on Review of 'My Glorious Brothers'

Editor, Feature Section:
I am writing you to take earnest exception to one paragraph in an otherwise very satisfying review of my book My Glorious Brothers, which Robert Friedman wrote for the Sunday Worker. I feel this is necessary because a review in The Worker should speak from a Marxist point of view; it should speak seriously and definitively - and should be taken in a similar vein. That is why I deem it necessary that what I consider a grave and dangerous fault in Mr. Friedman's thinking should not go unchallenged.
Mr. Friedman says, "Equally important, he has unhistorically and sweepingly condemned Greece as a people of slave owners, without regard to the context of the times which made that nation's society in advance of others. . . ."

* * *

I MIGHT point out in passing that nowhere in my book do I deal with Greece or even refer to Greece. The Jews in my book fight against Syria as a nation and against Syrio-Hellenism as a culture and weapon of oppression and they do so at a time (160 BCE) when Greek society was not in advance, either economically or ethically, of other societies. But that is only in passing, for Mr. Friedman's error is far deeper and more dangerous than a mere chronological confusion.
More to the point is the suggestion, in Mr. Friedman's review, that Marxists give a stamp of approval to slavery (even at a given point in history) as a desirable system. It is very true that the Roman slave latifundia was superior, as a means of production, to the simple peasant husbandry of barbarism, and it is also true that the latifundia as elaborated by its ideological exponent, Cicero, laid the economic bases for Rome's conquest of the world; but we would not be Marxists but miserable and inhuman creatures indeed were we, even for a moment, to give our stamp of approval to the incredible bestiality of Cicero's slave theories.

* * *

TRUE enough, the world has to pass through a slave stage so that society might move forward, but our heroes are never the slave masters. Our battle is not the battle Cicero led, but always the battle Sparticus led. Slavery at 160 BCE might have been more efficient than peasant husbandry, but the heroes of the time were those who fought slavery, who never bowed their heads. There indeed, is the true dialectic of history, Every system of oppression contains within it the seeds of its own destruction - and it was, as Engels so brilliantly points out - the free men of the highest stage of barbarism who nursed and nurtured the seeds which later shattered the slave system of Rome and Greece forever.
I beg of you to think a little more deeply where the mechanistic reasoning of Mr. Friedman might lead. Certainly the slave plantations of our own South were economically superior to the crude agriculture of the peasant cotton farmer; did that make slavery under the Bourbon either good or desirable? Certainly it was an advanced American capitalism which conquered the Philippines; did that make the Philippine liberation movement wrong?
More than that, by the reasoning of Mr. Friedman, every colonial liberation movement against the advanced imperialism of capitalist nations would have to be negated as being in advance of history - but of course here it is obvious that such logic leads not only to nonsense, but to evil and dangerous nonsense.

I HAVE frequently admired Mr. Friedman's treatment of books, but I do think that if he chooses to deal with complicated points in the materialist concept of history, he should discuss before he leaps to conclusions. I have spent years studying ancient history and groping for an understanding of it from the materialist point of view. I am not too much of a scholar, yet enough of one to have no doubt that there is a clear and meaningful continuity between every struggle against oppression. No oppression of the many by the few is ever good; no such oppression ever can be good. All who fought in freedom's cause, since first man began, are our brothers. All, whether they fought against slavery, serfdom or capitalism, lifted a brick for that eventual socialist structure which all of mankind will achieve. Freedom is, as Marx points out, the recognition of necessity; and it is basically the same necessity that all who resist oppression recognize.
Just one more word on Greek culture. Such culture stands; it is recorded and people will not forget, even as men will not forget the ragged revolutionary armies of America which taught the world such a lesson in human dignity. But Greek culture, like American culture, can be turned into a weapon of oppression. When I resist the culture of Henry Luce, I do not love my country and its traditions less. By virtue of this very fact, I think those Greeks in Free Greece who fight fascism today could take from my book not a little of the sustenance of freedom.


Merit in this instance can best be determined by the reader from a reading of 'My Glorious Brothers,' an occupation which will prove rewarding.

-Robert Friedman