Now that we're in Maryland, we've
discovered there is a lot more fans and fan activities than there ever was in
Tennessee; this area is host to at least three clubs, and was home for three past
Worldcons -- two in Washington and one up the road in Baltimore about five years ago.
This first article for our first issue of 1989 is by Dave Kyle, who was Fan Guest of
Honor at that 1983 Baltimore Worldcon. He's no stranger to Worldcons and Worldcon
politics; he was Chairman of the 1956 New York Worldcon, and played a significant part
in events at the very first Worldcon, 50 years ago this year. So here then, for the
record, is a bit of history about that very first Worldcon.
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The Great Exclusion Act of 1939
by Dave Kyle
In 1939, six prominent fans were barred from attending the first World Science Fiction Convention, in New York City. They were Frederik Pohl, Donald A. Wollheim, Robert W. Lowndes, Cyril Kornbluth, John B. Michel, and Jack Gillespie. Science fiction fandom at the time argued about the merits and tended to dismiss the event as some more crazy foolishness by "those New Yorkers". And now, fifty years later, most fans are only mildly curious about that quaint bit of fannish history. However, because certain famous persons are involved and because I bear much of the responsibility, I do feel that the central event should be clarified after all these years.
First, a very brief history lesson: the first convention, the "con" genesis, called "The First Eastern Science Fiction Convention", was held in the fall of 1936 in Philadelphia. New York fans (ISA) visited Philadelphia fans (PSFS) on a Sunday. Among the barely a dozen who were there were Frederik Pohl, Donald A. Wollheim, John B. Michel, William S. Sykora, and myself of the ISA, the fannish International Scientific Association. This led to a "First National" sf con the following year (1937) in Newark, New Jersey, just outside New York City, where Sam Moskowitz ruled the roost.
A strong rivalry had developed between the ISA leaders, who now identified themselves as The Futurian Society of New York, and the newly-formed group called New Fandom, headed by William S. Sykora, Sam Moskowitz, and James V. Taurasi. At the "First National" in Newark a power struggle developed for control of the projected "First World's Science Fiction Convention" to be held in the summer of the 1939 New York World's Fair. New Fandom tactics and Futurian intransigence at the Newark gathering resulted in New Fandom's successful claim to be organizers of the "World" con. Charges and countercharges were hurled at each other. The feud grew. By 1939, the bitterness was extreme. The rest of fandom, nationwide, participated to various degrees. The Futurians were the "intellectuals" in fandom who were enormously active, but the controversial espousal of "radical" causes, especially in political thinking, diluted their popularity and leadership.
The year 1939 was a time of worldwide turmoil, on the brink of real catastrophe. The Depression was our nation's sickness -- and all earth's, for that matter. The nastiest war of all time was about to begin. Communism flourished aggressively, appealing to world revolution, agitating all segments of society. Fascism, deadly enemy of Communism, had risen to power in many countries and developed military force and violence for its own ends. Dictatorships had exploded into sinister threats to "Americanism" and democracy.
By 1939, fandom was hardly a decade old. "Readers" had become "fans" and the activists were young; very young. Teenagers were the troops and boys in their twenties were the "mature" leaders. In this cauldron of the 1930s, many young idealists who were science fiction fans decided that science fiction not only dreamed of brave new worlds, but that sf was grounded in reality and that fans should become activists as well as dreamers. That was the backdrop for the clash between the Futurians and the New Fandom people. One or the other was going to shape fandom for the future. That was the heart of the matter. That was what bubbled and burned and swirled and festered behind the scene at that very first Worldcon. The adolescent behavior by all parties, myself included, was understandable, if not commendable. We took ourselves seriously, too seriously. Fortunately, the "professionals" at the time weren't interested in playing our games. They brought maturity to the event, which kept the first Worldcon from self-destructing.
I, for better or worse, was the trigger for the banning of those six fans from the meeting. I published the infamous "yellow pamphlet" which provoked the incident. It reflects the times in so many ways, both fannishly and internationally.
Sam Moskowitz wrote about these times and this particular situation in his fannish history book The Immortal Storm. He reported: "He [a fan] handed the pamphlet to Moskowitz. The pamphlet was dated July 2, 1939, and its cover also bore the heading 'IMPORTANT! Read This Immediately!' It contained four pages of text, and when Moskowitz opened it he found himself reading the following:" (Here followed in his 1954 book a supposedly slightly abridged copy of the pamphlet.) The offending hand-out appeared on Saturday morning of the first day of the convention. Trouble was already brewing as Futurians were being barred at the door. The sudden appearance of the one pamphlet alerted the three leaders. A search discovered the cache of "Warnings" under the heating radiator. Wollheim denied any knowledge, but it was disbelieved. I kept my mouth shut. That's why I was allowed into the meeting.
[The pamphlet is reproduced here. Bear in mind that the italic typeface represents the portions of the pamphlet that were NOT printed in his book. Moskowitz's edited version represents the kind of manipulation of words which no one should do, especially a researcher of Moskowitz's stature. But I forgive him even though others haven't after all these years. It's not easy, however, to read his disclaimer without some irritation even after a half century. He wrote: "The booklet ended after a few more paragraphs of a similar nature ..." One has to consider how such material was deliberately expurgated, more significant than just "a few paragraphs" (60% deletion!) and, outrageously described as "of a similar nature". And he did so just to strengthen his arguments as to why he, Sykora, and Taurasi banned six such prominent sf fans from one of the great fannish events of all time. But you be the judge. (And be tolerant of the purple prose, please.)] This is it:
# # # #BEWARE OF THE DICTATORSHIP
Read This Immediately!
July 2, 1939
YOU, who are reading this pamphlet, have come to attend the World's Science Fiction Convention. You are to be praised for your attendance and complimented on the type of fiction in which you are interested. But, TODAY BE AWARE OF ANY MOVEMENT TO COERCE OR BULLY YOU INTO! Remember, this is YOUR convention, for YOU! Be on the alert, lest certain well-organized minorities use you to ratify their carefully conceived plans.
Why This Warning?This warning is being given to you by a group of sincere science fiction fans. The reasons for this warning are numerous: THEY ARE BASED UPON EVENTS OF THE PAST -- particularly events which took place at the Newark Convention of 1937. At that time the gathering of fans and interested readers was pounded into obedience by the controlling clique. The Newark Convention set up, dictatorially, the machinery for the convention which you are now attending. THE NEWARK CONVENTION MUST NOT BE PERMITTED TO REPEAT ITSELF! It remains in your power to see that this convention today will be an example of perfect democracy.
Startling FactsThe Queens Science Fiction League was formed by the Newark Clique after that convention in order to make the necessary local organization upon which the dictatorial Committee could base itself. The editors demanded such an organization. The self-appointed chairman of the Newark Convention accordingly arranged to form it so to get a New York City organization for the similarly formed New Fandom. A constitution was written for it which is kept secret for the most part, but is arranged so as not to allow the possibility of any opponent joining the organization by the mechanics of allowing only one blackball, instead of the traditional two.
The Queens Science Fiction League is run arbitrarily by its three leaders and discussion from the floor and dissention in any form is rigidly controlled or suppressed. The editors and those dependent on them for a living, the authors, have made it a duty to attend Queens S.F.L. meetings regularly in order to keep it going and to keep the 1939 convention in hand. At the elections held last meeting, held openly so as to detect any possible opposition, the three dictators were re-elected unanimously in perfect undemocratic harmony.
The Newark RevolutionLed by a few indignant science fiction fans, the Convention of Newark in 1937 passed, OVER THE REFUSAL OF THE CHAIRMAN TO RECOGNIZE THE MOTION, by a MAJORITY OF MEMBERS, a resolution officially censuring the Chairman for his "undemocratic, dictatorial acts" which was placed in the minutes of the convention. Afterwards, a petition was SIGNED BY A MAJORITY further censuring him, together with his cohorts.
High Handed TacticsAt the same time that the Queens S.F.L. was established, a large number of New York City fans formed the Futurian Society of New York. Contrary to much propaganda, the Futurian Society is not confined to communists, michelists, or other radical elements; it is a democratic club, run in a democratic way, and reflecting sincere science fiction fan activity. At a meeting about three months ago, the Futurians, in the interest of peace and united friendly action in New York for the Convention, voted an offer of a united meeting with the Queens S.F.L. to work out such cooperation. THIS OFFER HAS NEVER BEEN PLACED TO THE MEMBERSHIP OF THE OTHER ORGANIZATION, BEING SIDETRACKED BY THE DICTATORS OF THE CLUB.
A Loaded WeaponThe World's Science Fiction Convention of 1939 in the hands of such heretofore ruthless scoundrels is a loaded weapon in the hands of such men. This weapon can be aimed at their critics or can be used to blast all fandom. But YOU, the reader of this short article, are the ammunition. It is for YOU to decide whether you shall bow before unfair tactics and endorse the carefully arranged plans of the Convention Committee. Beware of any crafty speeches or sly appeals. BE ON YOUR GUARD!
History in The MakingWhat is done at this convention will make science fiction history. YOU are making it. MAKE THIS A DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION!
WarningsBE CAREFUL: when the Chairman asks you to vote for something without discussion! DEMAND DISCUSSION! Be careful: when the Chairman suggests that a person be UNANIMOUSLY elected to an office; that is DICTATORSHIP! Be careful: if the Chairman says his critics are deliberately destructive; HEAR THE OTHER SIDE! Be careful: if the Chairman says there will be no time to vote; TIME MUST BE MADE! Be careful: in every way not to place unlimited power into the hands of the Convention Committee. THERE MUST BE REPRESENTATION, REPRESENTATION OF YOU! And above all, INSIST UPON DEMOCRATIC CONDUCT OF THE CONVENTION. DO NOT BE ROUGHLY SUPPRESSED!
In ConclusionIt must be said that this pamphlet has been written not because it is KNOWN that something dictatorial will happen. This pamphlet was written only because of past actions of the present Convention Committee. We sincerely hope we are mistaken in our suspicions. But we have learned too much from the past, not to be warned of the future.
The PublishersWho are we that have published this? We are science fiction fans, young men who believe that science fiction is a new type of literature which must not have its future destroyed by any selfish interests. We believe that free speech, cooperation, and democratic acts and thoughts must be granted to science fiction fandom. This pamphlet was NOT published by the Queens Science Fiction League. Likewise, it was NOT published by the Futurian Society of New York. Nor by "communists". Nor by "Fascists". Nor by any other clique or organization. This is published by a group of science fiction fans for no other purpose than to assure the person who attends the Convention a voice in the Convention, and to set them on their guard against any un-American dictatorial, or subversive management of the Convention. DESPITE ANYONE, OR ANYTHING, THE 1939 WORLD'S SCIENCE FICTION CONVENTION IS BOUND TO BE A SUCCESS! And if the Convention Committee should decide that democratic methods are best we will be the first to admit that they deserve full credit and praise for this gathering for the three days of July first, second and third. MAY SCIENCE FICTION PROSPER!
THE ASSOCIATION FOR DEMOCRACY
IN SCIENCE FICTION FANDOM
All illustrations by Dave Rowe