Monday, August 24, 2015

Betty Glan

In The Forgotten Man (HarperCollins, 2007) author Amity Shlaes recounts a visit to the USSR in 1927 by a group of American intellectuals including Paul Douglas, economist and future Illinois Senator. After Douglas gave a talk at a factory, the workers started chanting "Sacco and Vanzetti," the names of two anarchists who had been convicted of terrorism and recently executed in the U.S. Their execution had been used by the Soviet Union for propaganda to denigrate the U.S. Although sympathetic to the Sacco-Vanzetti cause, Douglas pushed back, replying that Sacco and Vanzetti had had the benefit of a full legal defense. He contrasted their treatment with that of two local bank clerks he had heard about. They had been arrested at two in the morning, sentenced at four, and executed at six. 

What Douglas would remember from the incident was a young woman named Betty Glan who came forward and told him, "You talk only about individual justice. This is a bourgeois ideal." They talked about an hour, and on leaving, Ms Glan remarked, "History will prove us right and you wrong." (p 75)

A decade passed and Betty Glan reappears:
"The next year Douglas would happen to be reading an item in the New York Times about a Trotskyite leader whom the Russian secret police had executed, and recognized the name with a start: Betty Glan. It was the Russian woman who had come up to him on his 1927 tour. Murdering one's corevolutionists seemed the very opposite of the liberalism the American Left saw as part of the spirit of revolution. What was the point of revolution, anywhere, if it led to this?" (p 321)

When I read this account I wondered if we should feel sorry for people like Betty Glan who in their quest to do good actually support and promote evil that ultimately consumes them. Glan had no sympathy for the bank clerks who were summarily executed because it was done for a cause that she thought would bring heaven on earth. Why should we have any sympathy for her when she was executed in the same way? We can feel sorry that the Betty Glans of the world stupidly align themselves with evil, but should we feel more?


Anonymous said...

Betty Glan was not executed. She and her husband were arrested during Stalin’s purges in 1930`s. Her husband Milan Gorkić (one time leader of Communist Party of Yugoslavia), was executed, however she was sentenced to prison and spent 16 years in jail.

Anonymous said...

Actually, she was also executed shortly after her husband.