From New International, Vol. I No. 1, July 1934, p. 31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Modern Monthly – June 1934, Vol. VIII, No. 5, 25¢
THE Modern Monthly still continues to give the impression of being over-much literary and the personal organ of V.F. Calverton. The departments – The Modern Student, The Theatre, the Literary Caravan – reveal no firm editorial policy. What is worth while in the periodical still appear to be articles contributed and written without benefit of editorial consultation.
The most interesting item is a translation of An Open Letter to Andre Gide by Ramon Fernandez, the French literary critic, author of Messages, who declares himself for the revolutionary proletariat. The reactionary riots of February in Paris have convinced Fernandez that “Today ... absence from the camp of the proletariat means being present in the camp of its enemies”. Fernandez reviews the three issues on which he had earlier differed with Gide and the Communists; and in each case unknowingly reveals that his differences were not with Marxism but with Stalinism. (1)
“Judging that Marxism did not encompass reality, nor all the possibilities of the mind, I wished to illumine that margin ignored by the revolutionists in their zeal for action.”
The “reality” which Marxism did not “encompass”, it is clear from Fernandez, is the internal structure of literature and art which, of course, as real Marxists know, have their own laws. Nevertheless, for refusing to follow the reductive vulgarisms of the Stalinist “literary” critics, of which the New Masses is typical, Fernandez had been viciously denounced as an anti-Marxist. It was unfortunate for Fernandez’ development that he took the Stalinist vulgarisms as the contemporary representation of Marxism, instead of realizing that Marxism’s analysis of literature does not ignore the relative autonomy of art in its own realm. One wonders whether Fernandez has read Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution, which represented the Bolshevik view when it appeared. Now, Fernandez declares, “it appears to me infinitely more important to defend the hungry than to be right against Marx”. But it is not Marx that he was right against, but the Stalinist epigones!
Fernandez’ second difference with the “Communists” is equally creditable to him. He would have none of the easy transformation into a Communist of the literary camp-followers of Stalinism. Merely to say he was a Communist was not enough. Application was necessary. He has come to see that only by identifying himself with the proletariat can he realize himself as an intellectual, and that the interests of proletariat and intellectual coincide.
To Fernandez’ further credit, his third difference with the “Communists’” remains unsolved: the choice of a party. He has no hope for the socialists, but is repelled by the “dogmatism” of the Stalinists. The basic degeneration of the Stalinists still seems to him merely a matter of tactics, mistakes of execution of the theory which he does agree with. He pledges himself:
“None of the reservations I have admitted to you will keep me from joining a revolutionary action on the day that pits the proletariat against its enemies. On such a day to hesitate would be to betray. One must swear faithfulness to this future action, even if it brings into play a contestable tactic, and profit by the respite still left us to try to give it a more just and efficacious orientation” (My italics).
That last point, we may be sure, will bring the Stalinist hatchet-men down on Fernandez, who will permit intellectuals to come to their party only in the frame of mind of Baptists ready to jump into the baptismal font. This insistence on thinking about the “contestable tactic” of the Stalinists will, let us hope, lead Fernandez in a genuinely revolutionary direction.
Last updated on 25 February 2016