Max Shachtman

An Open Letter
to Moissaye Olgin

Concerning the Fate of Your Two Friends,
Juliet Poyntz and Noah London

(July 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 28 , 9 July 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

My Dear Mr. Olgin:

Two of your oldest political and personal friends have disappeared – Juliet Stuart Poyntz and Noah London. The first vanished from her last known residence in New York, and despite a great deal of publicity about her case, there has been no clue to her whereabouts. The second was last heard of in the Soviet Union, and despite repeated requests made in our columns for information, those who are in a position to supply it have been disturbingly silent.

You knew both of these persons very intimately. Although you joined at a somewhat later date the party which they helped found, you established close bonds of friendship with them. After the formation of the Workers Party in 1921, when you were being hounded politically by the Costrell-Bittleman faction in the Jewish Federation of the party, Noah London became one of the most influential friends you had, and one of your closest collaborators in the editorial board of the Freiheit. In the subsequent internal fight over the Labor Party, your relationships were even more firmly cemented.

Leader in Anti-LaFollette Faction

As for Juliet Poyntz, your friendship, political and personal, was, if anything, even stronger. With you, and Ludwig Lore, she was one of the principal leaders of the faction which opposed the famous “LaFollette maneuver” of the Communist Party in 1924. In point of fact, you went to the sessions of the Executive Committee of the Comintern at that time in order to present the view you held in common with her.

These friendships, as you and so many others know, you maintained until not so long ago. Then, for one reason or another, your two friends fell foul of the Moscow machine. Noah London and his wife were tried a few years ago on a charge of “sabotage” which you, as well as I, know to be preposterous for a man of London’s record and position. He disappeared after that trial and recently the report reached here that he was shot by the Stalinist authorities. As for Juliet Poyntz, you know that after her disappearance, in the midst of her work on a book dealing with the situation in the Soviet Union, responsible persons charged that she was done away with by the Stalinist secret service in order to silence her.

Now, Mr. Olgin, I would like to know what you have done about these two old friends of yours. Have you at least made the appropriate inquiries about their fate in those qualified quarters which, both of us know, are in a position to give detailed and authoritative information – especially if you asked, in your capacity as a prominent official and leader of the American communists?

What Have You Done, Olgin?

Or have you, as has been your custom in these past years, remained silent; slunk whimperingly from your elementary obligations; cursed yourself bitterly for your impotence in the privacy of those intimates who you hope will not betray you as you are always ready to betray them; and rationalized your cowardice under some mythical higher duty to your political employers who despise and ridicule your notorious servility as much as you do theirs to the next layer of the hierarchy?

This letter is not addressed to you because you have retained any of the small ration of character and probity you could so ill afford to lose. What little you had left after your years of service under Abe Cahan, you surrendered completely during your term of service under Stalin. But you do have left what has sustained you for years: self-interest.

Look around at the shambles of the Stalin machine! See how many of its victims are men who sought to escape it by shrieking its praises and suppressing their inner revulsion! What assurance have you that tomorrow or the next day, you will not face – not the firing squad in a G.P.U. cellar, but the murderous slander campaign against the expelled scapegoat? That the party authorities will say, as they did about Juliet Poyntz, that they can scarcely remember the name of Olgin? Or that they will be silent, as they are in the case of Noah London, about what happened to M.J. Olgin because of the heretical, frightened remarks he made to “good friends” about things sacrosanct in the eyes of the Stalinist inquisition?

Would it then not be better to speak out now about the fate of your two old friends whom you have till now deserted and betrayed, before others have to speak out about you?


Yours, etc.,
Max Shachtman

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Last updated on 11 September 2015