Norman Writes About Joining the Communist Party

Cambridge [Massachusetts] — March 3 [1937]

Dear Howie —


For the past 3 weeks I’ve been trying to shake the gloom that has settled on me after receiving the news of the death of the best friend I had in Cambridge [England], John Cornford, killed by fascists in Spain — it is much more severe blow even than MacLauren whom I knew well but not intimately like John — I’m sure you knew him by my letters from Cambridge. I was influenced by him more than any of my friends there & under his tutelage I entered the party. I not only respected him & his gifts, both intellectual & political, but loved him […] Let me assure you that he was a man of such rare gifts that I firmly believe he would soon have been a guiding personality in the revolutionary movement — But I miss the friend even more [than] the political educator.

By the way, both he & MacLauren gave a magnificent account of themselves — John was the first leader of the English section of the International Brigades, fought in 3 fronts, the Aragon, & Madrid & died on the Cordoba front. MacLauren was an expert machine-gunner […]

I was very much moved by your a recent letter [sic] of yours in which you considered going to Spain — I imagine you decided against it for much the same reasons as I, but even more valid in your case. I set aside a small % of my stipend every month to go to Spain, but I feel pretty useless & futile in comparison to those in this conflict. I have been ‘collecting’ for Spain (food, clothes, money, etc.).

The news from Spain the last few days is definitely re-assuring. The fall of Malaga apparently had the effect of rousing the government forces to greater heights of resistance. […] Did you read anything of the evacuation of 150,000 civilians from Malaga? There was a graphic account of it by Dr. Norman Bethune — he was in that region at that time (he is the Canadian blood transfusion specialist helping the government).


A while ago I got a letter from father telling of his career as the critical turning point of his life, etc. It was a most moving document filled with autobiographic material of which I was completely ignorant. I will cherish the letter carefully. I respect his character all the more after reading his life, but I can’t accept the view that preaching Christ is the highest endeavor of human life. I tried to avoid polemics in my reply and rather foolishly enclosed the obituary of John Cornford and MacLauren, as evidence that whatever idealism etc. Christians possessed has not only ceased to be their monopoly (which it never was) but that the real standard-bearers for humanity for liberty, and man’s right to develop freely is communism


Love — as ever -

Source: University of British Columbia Rare Books and Special Collections, Roger Bowen Collection, Box 1, File 1-5, E. Herbert Norman, Norman Writes About Joining the Communist Party, March 3, 1937

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