The Jewish Daily Forward Defined the Word Obama’s Now Using As a Slogan

The Forward may be the most anticommunist newspaper in U.S. history, writes its former editor, Seth Lipsky.

Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo

President Obama is getting razzed for seeming oblivious to the hard-left associations of his new campaign slogan, “Forward,” which was once used by the Marxists, the socialists, and even the communists. Glenn Beck’s Web site, The Blaze, posts an anthology of communist posters featuring the word and asks “IS OBAMA’S NEW ‘FORWARD’ SLOGAN REALLY A COINCIDENCE?” Lou Dobbs is noting that the word has “a very long history with Marxists and socialists and communists.”

All that’s true—and fair enough. But the jibe doesn’t quite fit the newspaper that made the name “Forward” one of the most famous in all of journalism. That was the Jewish Daily Forward, issued in New York under the editorship of Abraham Cahan. It may be the most anticommunist newspaper in American history. It would not be wrong to say that it was the Forward that found the formula for winning the Cold War.

Like the Vorwarts in Germany from which the Forward took its name when it was founded in 1897, the paper sprang from the left. In the Jewish ghetto on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Yiddish-language Forward fixed into its headquarters busts of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, among other leftist icons. But as the communist tyranny gripped the Soviet Union, the Forward turned against the Reds with a fury and effectiveness that was never equaled.

One, albeit only one, of the Forward’s targets was a front called Friends of Soviet Russia, which was funneling money to the communist regime under the guise of “relief.” Starting in 1922, the Forward began exposing the scheme. In 1923, the editor of the Forward visited the Soviet Union and returned to declare: “Russia has at present less freedom than it had in the earliest days of Romanov rule ... The world has never seen such a despotism.”

The Forward went on to become one of the first newspapers in America to report on the Siberian death camps, which other organs of the left steadfastly ignored. Forward reporters went to Russia to file eyewitness accounts of the mass starvation that accompanied Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture. Cahan railed against communism so assiduously that some on the left began saying the Forward was just as bad as Hearst’s publications. Cahan took it as a compliment.

In 1923, at the national convention of the Socialist Party, Cahan delivered a keynote speech that is remembered for, among other things, the way the communist organ, the Worker, described the scene. It called Cahan a “notorious Bolshevik baiter” and his remarks a “compilation of the most loathsome backstairs gossip against Soviet Russia, emanating from the journalistic house of prostitution of the entire capitalist world …”

In retrospect it would become clear that the Forward had crossed a Rubicon and begun a long war against the communists that would last to the collapse of the Soviet Union and beyond. It helped found the American Labor Party so its readers could abandon the socialists and vote for FDR without voting for Tammany Hall. When the ALP was taken over by the communists, it broke away and helped form the Liberal Party.

In the late 1920s, the leader of the American communists, Jay Lovestone, quit the party and vowed to bring down the Soviet Union. It was the Forward that gave him a home, at a labor union with which it was allied, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. From that redoubt Lovestone worked his plots. He sent to Europe a young organizer, Irving Brown, and they set up the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions—anticommunist trade unions responsive not to a party or a government but to a vote of their members.

It was the ICFTU that did battle against the World Federation of Trade Unions, which was based at Prague and sided with the communists. It was anticommunist labor that got Marshall Plan aid past communist dockworkers in Europe. Decades later, it was with the ICFTU that affiliated a little-known trade union at Gdansk, Poland, called Solidarity, which rose up and—by exposing as a the lie the idea that communism stood for the working man—cracked Soviet rule in the East Bloc.

Abraham Cahan himself died in 1951. But the Forward carried on. It sided against Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs. It supported the war against the communists in Korea and Vietnam. When the bitter end came in Saigon, it warned—prophetically—that the communist bloodlust would not be slaked and the killing had only begun. The communist reeducation camps, the flight of the boat people, and the Cambodian killing fields followed.

When President John F. Kennedy went to Berlin to give what became one of his most famous speeches, it was Jay Lovestone who, according to biographer Ted Morgan, leaned over to the president and told him that when he stood up in the Rathausplatz, he should declare “Ich bin ein Berliner.” And when Irving Brown lay dying at Paris, it was President Reagan who awarded him the Medal of Freedom.

Reagan knew all about the anticommunist trade unions. He had been president of one of them, the Screen Actors Guild. So I, too, wonder whether President Obama fully appreciates the history behind the slogan “Forward.” But it’s not the Marxist message to which he seems oblivious. It’s the anticommunist message. The tribunes of the anticommunist labor movement, for which the Forward flew the flag, were there with advice, if not always support, for JFK, Nixon, and Reagan. To whom can President Obama turn?