Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marx, Duclos and NM

First Published: The New Masses, Vol. 55, No. 11, June 12, 1945.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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I am writing this on behalf of myself and two other subscribers to your magazine. We are seriously considering not renewing our subscriptions. It is not easy for me to write this letter. You will understand when I state that I have been a steady reader not only of NEW MASSES but of its predecessor, the Liberator and the old Masses before then. It is easy to break with what NEW MASSES is; not with what it was–and it is this and a sense of loyalty alone that must keep many of your subscribers from cancelling their subscriptions.

Jan De Graaf, as well as L.L., have spoken the truth about your magazine, which is why you answered them in so cavalier a fashion. However, they did not go to the root of its malady. It must be obvious to the staunchest friend of NEW MASSES that, in the words of De Graaf, its recent issues have been “something between a church magazine and an OWI release.” But why? The editors are the same experienced journalists and brilliant writers who turned out such excellent issues a few years ago. The staff has not deteriorated. There is only one answer, it seems to me, and that is a Marxist one:

NEW MASSES started its nose-dive with the advent of the new Communist program. This calls for national unity and support of “free enterprise” for a long period after the war, putting the brakes on propagandizing for socialism, on strikes and on all forms of criticisms that might promote class war and lead to friction and disturbance of unity. Under these circumstances, revolutionary criticism and interpretation go out of the window–and, with it, the pith and marrow of the wonderful journal NEW MASSES was-its raison d’etre. After all, if reformist magazines devoted to “improving” bourgeois democracy are needed, journals like the Nation and New Republic are sufficiently adequate; they have had much marc experience and training in that sort of thing.

The disastrous effects of the new Communist line on NEW MASSES arc apparent both politically and culturally. Magil’s series on cartels was typical: he actually argued that (a) since cartels arc an essential part of world capitalism and (b) since we are committed to support of capitalism inasmuch as the people do not want socialism, therefore (c) we must not attack cartels but support them in the interests of world trade! Thereafter, the magazine dropped whatever pretensions it had to being Marxist and became exclusively an organ of the Roosevelt New Deal. When Roosevelt died, the semi-hysterical rhapsodies that filled your special issue supplied final proof of this fact. Yes, he was undeniably a great man and this writer loved him and felt a sense of personal loss, also but was it wise, was it evidence of Marxist leadership, to go completely overboard as you did and exhaust every possible adjective connoting greatness? What will you say when a great Communist leader dies, one who, unlike Roosevelt, had Marxian vision and understanding as well as humanitarian zeal? You could not give him greater praise, as you have already exhausted your adjectives!

Culturally, NEW MASSES has collapsed also, as a reflex reaction to the new orientation. Where are the scorching and luminous poems and drawings of before the war? Nowhere in the world were better poems, cartoons and short stories published than in your journal. It is heart-breaking to witness such a decline. No, Mr. Editor, you can’t answer it with a smug head (“We Are Tolerated”) or a sarcastic rejoinder in which you call attention to mistakes in spelling. As to literary criticism, this has fallen so low that even the literary editor of the Sunday Worker took notice of it some months ago in his column and complained of the dullness and New Republic respectability of critics who seem to be afraid of the revolutionary Marxist approach! Unfortunately, he did not try to explain how one can integrate this desired approach with the new line.

The fact that Soviet Russia has become a world power and that the capitalist nations are forced (at least in the present period) to cooperate with her has not changed this fundamental fact: the laws of motion discovered or elaborated by Marx, continue inexorably to operate in capitalist countries. These forces have certain disastrous effects that can and should be mitigated; they cannot be abolished unless capitalism is abolished. It is because you have turned an about-face on this cardinal Marxist doctrine; it is because you have substituted Teheran for the class struggle and the struggle for socialism that a great artist like Gropper is reduced to drawing comic strips instead of his former inspiring cartoons for your magazine, while your political articles have degenerated to the level of showing that black is black and examining capitalists through a magnifying glass to separate the “patriotic” capitalists from those who are not patriotic (whatever that means).

My friends and I have agreed to withhold action until we see what disposition you make of this letter. We feel our reaction is typical of many of your subscribers and that it would therefore be to the best interests of NEW MASSES for you to publish it in full and ask for answers and rejoinders. One thing we promise: we will earnesl1y examine all criticism of the position as set forth above. If we are wrong, we will admit it, for we still believe in Bolshevik self-criticism, a practice we respectfully recommend to the editors.

New York City.

Mr. Pollack is the author of “Careers in Science,” recently published by Dutton. His letter was received prior to the publication of Jacques Duclos’ article criticizing the policies of the American Communists.