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James T. Farrell

The Literary Left in the Middle ’30s

From “Proletarian” to People’s Front Literature

(July 1947)

From New International, Vol. XIII No. 5, July 1947, pp. 150–155.
Copyright, July 1947, by James T. Farrell.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

In the New Masses of April 9, 1946, Albert Maltz stated in an article, Moving Forward:

“In the Thirties, as there now seems to be general agreement, left-wing criticism was not always conducted on the deepest or most desirable or most useful level. Its effectiveness was lowered by tendencies toward doctrinaire judgments and toward a mechanical application of social criticism. And these tendencies must be understood and analyzed if working class culture is to advance to full flower. [Italics in original] But, on the other hand, the inadequacies of criticism, such as they were, are only a small and partial aspect of the left-wing cultural movement as a whole. The full truth – as I have been aware of for many years – is this: from the left-wing cultural movement in America, and from the left wing internationally, has come the only major, healthy impetus to an honest literature and art that these two decades have provided. Compound the errors of left cultural thought as big as you will – still its errors are small as compared to its useful contributions, are tiny as compared to the giant liberating and constructive force of Marxist ideas upon culture. As a matter of sheer fact this is such a self-evident proposition that it doesn’t require someone of my conviction to state it: it has been acknowledged even by reactionary critics who, naturally, have gone on falsely to declare that the liberating force of left culture has run its course and expired.”

At the suggestion of the editor of a well known quarterly magazine, I wrote the following article. This magazine, however, decided not to publish it for the alleged reason that it dealt too much in personalities. After trying to publish it in one or two other magazines and having it rejected, I put it away in my files. But in the light of the fact that the Stalinists again are speaking in “left” terms, and in the light of the fact that Albert Maltz and many others in the New Masses and elsewhere are offering new interpretations of what happened in Stalinist literary circles in the 1930s, I think it pertinent to publish this article now as a contribution toward keeping the record clear, and in order to remind the younger generation of writers and intellectuals of what really happened in the 1930s. In this spirit, I publish the article.

Also, it is hardly necessary to add that the same spirit of literary terror pervades the world-wide Stalinist movement at the present time. One instance of it has been the cultural purge in Russia in 1946. All over again, the leading cultural figures of Russia were attacked and required to make confessions and to pen public retractions. Among those forced to such indignity have been Shostakovich (his “confession” appeared in the Saturday Review of Literature of January 25, 1947) and Eisenstein. This would be comic if it were not so grisly, so menacing.



All is rather somnolent on the so-called proletarian literary front. The official left is no longer so ambitious, energetic and arrogant as it was in the first half of the 1930s. Then, the subject of proletarian literature was frequently discussed and hotly debated in the journals. The movement was consciously promoted by the self-styled “Marxians,” who conceived themselves to be genuine “scientific” critics, of literature; often they wrote with the conceit of history. The novelists of the movement were producing a rapid succession of books. A few of these works, such as Nelson Algren’s Somebody in Boots and Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep are of worth. But I believe that most of those novels were over-praised, even log rolled, far beyond their merit. The critics of the movement legislated what themes and subject matter a novel should have. And when this legislation was more or less fulfilled in a novel they praised it unduly. Then, if someone criticized the particular work as bad, he would (in all likelihood) be taken over the coals by Michael Gold, who was in the habit of making his own particular conception of “loyalty” to the movement a primary basis of literary appreciation. The growth of the left wing theater was also celebrated; it was confidently predicted that the revolutionary drama would drive Broadway to cover. The young left wing poets, just beginning to lisp their numbers, were regarding themselves as the leaders in a renaissance of American poetry. In brief, proletarian literature, like Eclipse) was first, and the rest were nowhere.

Literary Left in Decline

Today this entire movement seems bankrupt. Many of its exemplary writers have long been rather silent. Some have obtained jobs in Hollywood and elsewhere, and the more commercialized spheres of art and journalism have attracted their energies. The little left-wing magazines which sprouted all over the country, and which were received as a sign of youth and growth-these are practically all defunct. The Theater Union, after an abbreviated season in 1936, has been disbanded. The Group Theater was temporarily disbanded. In 1937 it returned only briefly. However, the Group Theater can no longer be considered a conscious part of the left-wing theater. For in 1936 its board of directors published a statement in the New York Times in which they definite1y separated themselves from the cultural left. They declared that their aim was to produce good plays, irrespective of social orientation. This was a denial of a fundamental conception of the entire left-wing cultural movement. The magazine New Theatre (which lived a short life as New Theatre and Film) was the organ of the left-wing theater; it has been abandoned, apparently for good. Many of the so-called proletarian novelists have had no new books published in two or three years, and the reputations made for them by critics like Granville Hicks are embalmed in the dust of forgotten book reviews. Some of those works which have appeared in the last two years are miserably mediocre. I refer to such novels as Isidor Schneider’s The Kingdom of Necessity, Clifton Cuthbert’s Another Such Victory, Edward Newhouse’s This Is Your Day. In general, there are fewer cultural organs of the official left, and those that remain grow increasingly dull and sterile. Where there was once frenzied sectarianism, there is now such roominess of acceptance that even commercial writers of no literary consequence are admitted into the fold. And at the same time political dogmatism and hysteria have intensified.


Alan Calmer, an editor of Proletarian Literature in the United States, published an article in The Saturday Review of Literature [1] under the title of Portrait of the Proletarian as Artist. Mr. Calmer is not politically opposed to the Communist Party. He is not, to use the prevailing language of anathema and excommunication, a “Trotskyist.” Therefore, not even an editor of the New Masses is likely to describe his literary article as an attack on humanity by an ally of William Randolph Hearst. In his article he attempts to explain the causes and to trace the process behind the sudden disintegration of the official left-wing cultural movement. He points out the contrast between the old period and the present one: “In the old era, only Marx’s and Lenin’s observations on art were free from criticism; now critics who maintain that even nostalgic ‘feudal fiction belongs to us,’ are heralded as Marxists.” He illustrates how, with the change in the party line, the old sectarianism was abandoned with unabashed opportunism. He suggests that this shift is confusing to the young proletarian writer. His article is an alarm signal, and in it he puts his finger on one of the causes of the present state of disintegration; it is “the subjection of literature to the tactics of a political party.”

Example of French Revolution

Keeping this in mind, I believe that some historical exposition is in order. Behind the widespread agitation for a proletarian literature in this country there stands the Russian Revolution. It is to be remembered that the effects of the great French Revolution were international, and of a cultural and social as well as of a political nature. In other countries, the French Revolution became a political axis, and its influence reached into other fields of interest. French influence spread over Europe. As one example of this, I might cite the impetus given to American democratic sentiment by the French Revolution, following our own Revolutionary War. This impetus influenced the plays and the journalism of the period. One of its manifestations was the spreading of a sentiment against aristocracy, a sentiment expressed even by the growing American plutocracy that. had been ushered into the tents of the mighty by the victory over England. A parallel manifestation is observable in the case of the Russian Revolution. Before the Russian Revolution, there was an international Marxist movement. Marxism claims to be a world philosophy, encompassing all phases of human activity. Consequently it is historically normal that cultural struggles in Russia, the land of the first Marxist revolution, should carry into other lands.

One of the cultural struggles in post revolutionary Russia centered around the question of a proletarian culture and a proletarian literature. The first years after November were years of chaotic ferment. There were many schools in Russian literature, and these all competed to gain literary hegemony. This was the period when the best post-revolutionary Russian literature was produced, with books like Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry and Neweroff’s City of Bread. The struggle reached even the topmost ranks of the Communist Party, and a commission composed of Trotsky, Lunarcharsky and Bukharin was formed to study the question and define the party attitude on literary questions. The decision to permit an anarchistic competition of groups and schools which accepted the Revolution established an essentially “hands off” policy. [2] All groups which accepted the October Revolution were to be permitted free scope. Such an attitude was essentially the one Lenin and Trotsky took toward art; both of them inclined toward the “garden” view of culture. Culture was for all. All were to be educated and encouraged to partake of its fruits. Thus, Lenin once said:

“We need the theater, not so much for propaganda as to rest hard workers after their daily work ... We must preserve the beautiful. ... There is nothing better than A passionata ... The proletarian culture must appear as a natural development ... Every artist, every-body who wishes to, can claim the right to create freely according to his ideal.”

The Fight Against “Trotskyism”

It was as a result of this ferment and struggle that Trotsky wrote his book of literary essays, Literature and Revolution. [3] In it he argued that there could not be a proletarian literature, for the time elapsing between the November Revolution and the period of the socialist classless society would be too brief in the historical sense. The aim of the proletarian revolution was to create not a class culture but a human and socialist culture. Trotsky also spoke for art’s own laws and for the continuity of the creative tradition. [4] After Lenin’s death, Trotsky was on the way out. Because of the political struggle between the Left Opposition, which he led, and Stalin, Trotsky’s views on literature and culture were attacked. The Stalinist literary group, At Your Post, conducted the fight against Trotskyism, and it was the central agent in forming the organization of Russian writers known as RAPP, which advanced theses such as the following:

“The rule of the proletariat is incompatible with the domination of non-proletarian ideology and consequently non-proletarian literature.” [5]

And this:

“The path which the proletariat has followed in the field of politics and economics should also be followed in the field of art – that is, the road to hegemony, the seizure of power by the proletariat in the domain of literature.” [6]

Both the point of view and the pogrom methods of RAPP were transported to this country.

Historically, then, it was to be expected that the international effect of the Russian Revolution would be social and cultural as well as political and ideological. It was to be expected that there would be a reflection of Russian literary struggles in our own country. In general, culture is now international rather than national, and the effects of literary tendencies in one country carryover into other countries. The particular effect of Russian literary struggles was a consequence of Stalin’s victory and the fight against “Trotskyism” which was carried on in all fields. In essence, this resulted in complete subjection of literature to politics, the hitching of literature to the party line. In this country the agitation for a proletarian literature came most forcibly during the days of the so-called “third period” of the Communist International. During that period, the party line was based on the premise that an epoch of capitalist stabilization in the West following the World War had ended and that the proletariat of the advanced Western nations was on the eve of seizing power. As a class, the bourgeoisie was losing its grip. The workers of the world were preparing to overthrow their masters and become the dominant class in modern society. If the bourgeoisie was on the eve of losing state power, it was deduced, the bourgeoisie was no longer capable of contributing to literature. For bourgeois literature was without hope, defeatist, pessimistic, despairing. Having a class orientation, it was dedicated to emphasizing bourgeois values and defending the bourgeoisie against the workers. [7] If workers were subjected to it, their revolutionary hope and optimism would be corrupted. The time had arrived, then, to create a proletarian literature, and the vanguard of the proletariat was the Communist Party. Those who were not with the party were against it; they were the class enemies of the proletariat. To this category belonged the Socialists. They were the main adversaries because they were “social fascists.” And in the field of literature, all liberal and radical writers, all novelists working in the traditions of realism, and naturalism in terms of the internal logic and development of literary tendencies, were attacked, as were the Socialists in the political arena. The conception of the role of the party was carried into literature. Thus Edwin Seaver once stated:

“The literary honeymoon is over, and I believe that the time is fast approaching when we will no longer classify authors as proletarian writer and fellow travelers, but as party writers and non-party writers.” [8]

Joseph Freeman, in his introduction to Proletarian Literature in the United States approved this statement.

Social and Political Motives

It should be pointed out that in much of the agitation for a proletarian literature, one simple distinction was almost never made. It is the distinction between what might be termed social motives and political motives in literature. Many of our apologists for a proletarian literature were not demanding social motives only. The were demanding a definite political motivation. The motives and intentions they demanded were not precisely the same as those that went into the work of Dickens when he attacked prison conditions in England. Nor were they precisely the same as those that went into the composition of Zola’s masterpiece, Germinal. Dickens attacked prison conditions and agitated for a change in them because of their effect on human beings. Zola studied and observed life in a mining community closely and attempted to describe that life with the utmost precision. In both instances the authors wrote in terms of own ways of seeing life, their their own temperaments, the logic of their own literary developments. The apologists for a proletarian literature not only demanded that the writer do as much in terms of the present as did Dickens and Zola in their own epoch; they called upon the novelist (whether they realized it or not) not only to see life, but to see life as a corroboration of the prognostications of the Comintern. They wanted the author to see the party line working out in life, irrespective of what was actually happening. Thus they would tell the writer what theme he should use in his novels, what classes he should write about. The warrant offered in justification of these demands was Marxism. They were “dialectical materialists”; that is, true scientists. The truth they spoke was scientific truth. They knew the laws of social action and their speech embodied that law. They knew history and they spoke in its name. To repeat, theirs was the conceit of history.

Writers often allowed themselves to become so badgered and upset by this agitation that they tended to become dual intellectual personalities. There was frequently a split between their literary aims and their political affirmations. They had to apologize because they failed to see the party line in the life they depicted, in the literature they read and valued. Thus they would often say that they liked such and such a book, that it was literature, but ... “it isn’t our stuff.” Sometimes this agitation even went to the point of castigation of literary forms. A leading figure of the movement once called free verse a “fascist” form, and the young poets had to waste time in the useless effort of disputing him.

“Party Line” Literature

The basis of this criticism was almost always “ideological.” The writer was often criticized because he wrote about the wrong subject matter. The writer was told to be a Marxist, and to change history with a lyric or a novel. He was told that in the present epoch there was no time for the description of that incipiently fascist class, the petty bourgeoisie. He must write of the manner in which the workers were becoming class conscious. In other words, he was told to describe the workers as they were described in the prevailing party line. Methodologically, the fallacy here was what Alfred North Whitehead has described as “the fallacy of misplaced concretion.” An analysis of life is, by definition, an extraction of elements from life. Mere analysis, that is, the party line, was concretized and substituted for the raw, emergent movement of life” itself. The psychology of human beings was deduced not directly from experience but from a set of political theses. Philosophically, this was backhanded idealism, the very tendency then being so violently attacked by those who were thus themselves taking a side door into idealism. [9]

Social motives have been apparent in literature for a long time-long, long before our recent agitation for a proletarian literature. A continuation of such motives in terms of the internal logic and development of literature – a continuation of the creative literary tradition itself – was neither meant nor asked for. Political motives were behind the demands of the “Marxians.” They were not merely asking the writer to speak truthfully of social problems, they were asking him to advertise the Communist Party.

Discussions of proletarian literature do not appear in journals as frequently as they once did. There is a reason. The party line, upon which the agitation for a proletarian literature was based, has been changed. The present line postulates as the central issue of the contemporary world the struggle between progressivism and reaction – democracy versus fascism. The tactics based on this line call for organization of all progressive forces in a popular front against reaction. Applied to the cultural field, this means a front of all anti-fascist intellectuals and writers. In many instances, the writers to be won over to this front are the very ones who were so stupidly attacked and so patronizingly insulted in the so-called “third period.” It is obvious that such writers (with “bourgeois” reputations) cannot be won over if the critics are to continue attacking their work as they once did. The new line demands that the old literary attitudes be sidetracked. [10]

Anyone who has followed the New Masses literary section from 1933 on will readily perceive that the old literary attitudes have been sidetracked. The old fanaticism is gone. Writers who were attacked are now praised, flattered, cajoled. The New Masses motion-picture critics are constantly measuring Hollywood productions in order to ascertain which are so many inches over toward the side of progressivism. A Hollywood scenarist like Donald Ogden Stewart is referred to as a man of genuine literary attainments and definite importance in the history of American letters. Even Fannie Burst receives serious consideration. Any writer who makes the least gesture toward the official Left is now more than likely to receive kindly treatment and free advertising from it when his books appear.

The new orientation demands tactics completely opposed to those which were used in the so-called “third period,” and the new line has effected an almost complete reversal of literary appreciations. The case of Archibald MacLeish might be cited. In 1933 he was excoriated and young left-wing poets were warned to beware of him. When his poems, Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller’s City, appeared, Michael Gold in the New Republic castigated them as possessing reactionary implications and revealing the “fascist unconscious.” Now Mr. MacLeish’s alleged “fascist unconscious” is forgotten. He “belongs to us.” He was a featured speaker at the second American Writers’ Congress. He makes no apology for that “fascist unconscious” and his work is no longer attacked.

Intolerance Continues

On the surface, it would seem that the new line makes for greater liberalism and tolerance. It would appear that greater literary freedom is now permitted and that the official Left is going to grow up. But appearances are deceptive. The new orientation requires that the old scapegoats be freed from literary pogroms, and that a new group be found to take their place. This has happened. All writers who declare themselves against war and fascism, who affirm faith in democracy, who accept the official interpretations of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin foreign policy, the new Soviet constitution, and the Moscow Trials – they are left alone and are eligible for admission into all revised categories of “honest” intellectuals. They are working for the future of humanity. But whether or not their literary work has integrity is not particularly important. If, for instance, they work in Hollywood on an anti-labor film – well, they can be excused. After all, they have no more control over the product of their labor than has a Bethlehem steel puddler. But if, because they oppose war and fascism and believe in human rights and freedom, they express skepticism toward the Moscow Trials, that is another matter. Then they are not “honest” intellectuals (revised category). They are enemies of mankind. They have entered Mr. Hearst’s valley of San Simeon. On the basis of such a line, the old intolerance flourishes as ever. If anything, political dogmatism has been intensified under the new line.

One reason why the new slogans have become an effective cover for a continuation of intolerance is that a number of respectable writers have more or less been won over as allies. They serve the function of attractive bay windows. The official Left is tolerant of them. They help out by occasionally making speeches, by occasionally writing in the New Masses. They are allies to be exhibited in public. Writers like Archibald MacLeish, Malcolm Cowley and Donald Ogden Stewart fall into this category. They do not do the hatchet work. But the hatchet work is done. And when it is, such “allies” make no protest. It is all for the sake of humanity.

Proof of increased intolerance is to be found, for instance, in an article contributed to the Daily Worker on October 20, 193?, by V.J. Jerome, a party functionary who works in the cultural geld. It is titled, No Quarter to Trotskyists – Literary or Otherwise. I quote from this article at considerable length because it is most revealing. Mr. Jerome writes:

“What are our forces doing on the literary front to expose and drive out from our midst the Trotskyist imposters? What is being done by our comrade writers to attend the warnings sounded by Comrade Stalin in his great address on Mastering Bolshevism? How should they work to hurl out of the way the Trotskyist obstacles to promoting, through the powerful medium of the pen, the People’s Front principles? What should they do to bring socialist achievements of the Soviet Union closer to literary creators and audiences? ...

“What strikes one at first glance is the too common notion that the struggle against Trotskyism concerns the party and trade unions but not writers; that the literary battle is a thing apart from the political struggle; that the Farrells and the Lionel Abels and the Rahvs may be Trotskyites [sic!] but as writers they belong with us in one confraternity – a ‘united front,’ you might say. Otherwise, how shall we explain their inclusion in our anthologies [???] and the prise of their ‘style’ [???] in our magazines? Not that this notion is prevalent everywhere in our literary circles; but it does obtain in varying degrees and when encountered is often met by a thoughtless conciliatory attitude.” (It would appear that the “style” of Studs Lonigan is threatening to become a Trotskyist menace to the working class front – in fact, to the human race.)

Mr. Jerome goes on to criticize the New Masses. If a writer is attacked there as “Trotskyist,” Mr. Jerome does not want the editors to grant the common democratic and editorial courtesy of allowing him to reply to such attacks. He says:

“To admit the right of counterrevolutionaries to the platform or press of the working class or the progressive movement on the assumption of·· ‘tolerance’ or ‘fair play’ means to accommodate the worst enemy which now confronts the forces of world progress.” (This means that he wants all such writers barred from contributing to organs like The Nation and New Republic.)

It should be pointed out here that the definition of a “counter-revolutionary” changes with each change in the party line. It is to be remembered that three years ago Mr. Jerome would not have publicly criticized any statement of, say, Karl Radek, and that he would have been very likely to have called “counter-revolutionary” any American writer who challenged an article of Radek’s. One gets dizzy keeping account of who is, and who is not, a “counter-revolutionary.” Such an effort demands a separate full-time study.

Mr. Jerome concludes:

“It is time to recognize that Trotskyites, ‘literary’ or otherwise, are engaged in tearing down all that we are working to build up, that the class struggle permits no rotten liberalism towards our enemies, that the fight against fascism demands the complete routing and annihilation [???] of Trotskyism. The writers of the progressive camp – Communists, left-wingers and progressives generally – with New Masses as the rallying voice, can play an important role in the developing People’s Front by being consistent in their anti-fascism, by being simultaneously loyal to the principles of the People’s Front and ruthless with the enemy – with fascism and Trotskyism.”

“Trotskyists” to Be Barred

The expressed purpose of the People’s Front is to defend democracy. Two of our most precious democratic rights are free speech and the right to be considered innocent until proved guilty. What kind of loyalty is Mr. Jerome speaking of when he demands that the New Masses and, also, progressive magazines deprive writers of these rights whenever Mr. Jerome’s party calls them “Trotskyists”? For Mr. Jones does not confine his meaning of “Trotskyist” to the political followers of Leon Trotsky, who call for the Fourth International, and who are organizationally connected with the international Trotskyist movement. He refers to all sorts of writers who maintain their independence of judgment and arrive at conclusions on political, intellectual or literary questions which happen to differ from the prevailing views held on these questions within the official Left movement. Here he reveals that his mind has a totalitarian cast. He lets the cat out of the bag. He talks of democracy and uses new slogans to cover the naked face of intolerance.

This intolerance becomes clear if we remember what he has said of “Trotskyites” and his call for their “annihilation” [?], and then cite instances of “Trotskyism” mentioned in the official and semi-official press. What are some of the crimes of “Trotskyism”? One is that of unfavorably reviewing Robert Briffault’s novel Europe in Limbo. The radical critic, Phillip Rahv, committed this crime in The Nation. [11] He concluded his review thus:

“Mr. Briffault is interesting for his eccentric disposition, which in its composite effect recalls to us such diverse figures as H.L. Mencken, Benjamin De Casseres, Nietzsche, Dean Inge, and William S. Hart with a smoking gun in each hand and tears in his eyes.”

Michael Gold exposed this “Trotskyist” crime in a Daily Worker column entitled A Literary Snake Sheds His Skin. [12] He called Mr. Rahv a “literary snake,” and added that “there is something sneaky, too, about The Nation in encouraging him.” Rahv, it seems has no right to criticize this novel because Mr. Briffault is “a great anthropologist who turned at fifty-five to novel writing, and did a really original thing in making a bestseller out of the revolutionary criticism of capitalism.” Michael Gold refuses to grant Rahv the status of literary critic, declaring that Rahv attacks Briffault “not as a Trotskyite, mind you, but as a literary critic.” It would appear from the above that there is no end of damage being done to contemporary American letters. “Trotskyism” in American letters, according to the official Left, is becoming the same kind of devil under everybody’s bed that Rousseauism was in the mind of the late Dr. Irving Babbitt.

Hitler’s Tactics in Literature

The moment one discusses the “official Left” in American letters one is led into discussing almost everything but literature. This very fact should make clear to the reader the degree of genuine interest the “official Left” has in literature. Literature is subjected to political expediency. It is part of a monolithic political movement. It is dominated by totalitarian states of mind. In one period, book reviews end with discussions of industrial activity in the Soviet Union and condemnations of a “social fascist.”

In the next period a book review is likely to turn into an alleged “Trotskyist” plot to break strikes. The “official Left,” literary and otherwise, uses the same tactics that Hitler does. It lumps all who disagree with it in the same category. This is a familiar political trick. It has nothing whatever to do with literature.

The consequences of applying such tactics in literature should be clear to those who read this article. When writers become absorbed into the official Left, they unwittingly fall into line. The official Left is primarily a pressure group. It uses culture and literature as a means of advancing itself as a pressure group. The writer who maintains his intellectual independence is bound to become lost and sidetracked in its mazes, especially if he is a literary critic. There is no place for the literary critic in such a political movement. When he becomes part of it, he finds that maintenance of his literary tastes constantly involves him in criticism of the books of his “political” allies and comrades. If he is a novelist, he finds himself running afoul of a party line laid down by an infallible set of leaders. These leaders are all dialectical materialists and are furnished with the key to all history. Whatever they do becomes historic necessity. Their premises concerning life are handed to the writer as life itself, and he is to write books celebrating them. Furthermore, he will awaken one morning and read in the New York Times that the party line has been changed. He will suddenly discover his comrades applying the new party line in literature, praising new literary allies. He will find commercial writing and Hollywood, the foe of his every literary ideal, now being given serious attention. It is apparent that there can be no creative and intellectual continuity in such a literary tendency. There can be no expansion of literary sensibilities. There can be no development of those intellectual perspectives necessary to fertilize a literary movement. In terms of literature, there is no sanction for the cultural policies which the official Left has successively implemented. If the official Left wishes to establish political sanctions for its cultural policies, it must come forth and do so by showing the co-relationships between literature and politics. At the present time the only sanction offered in its defense is its own infallibility. And it goes almost without saying that creative writers do not fare well in infallible political movements. If they allow themselves to be compromised by this movement – as many contemporary American writers have – then the future opening up for them is more likely to offer the roles of demagogues, political hacks, and literary cops than those of poets, novelists and literary critics.


1. The Saturday Review of Literature, July 1937.

2. The reader who wishes to investigate this literary struggle should consult such books as Voices of October, by Joseph Freeman, Joshua Kunitlz and Louis Lozowick, Artists In Uniform, by Max Eastman, Literature and Revolution, by Leon Trotsky, The Mint and Soul of Bolshevism, by René Fueloep-Miller. The files of the magazine, International Literature, published in English in Moscow, will also be valuable. Problems of Soviet Literature, by A. Zhdanov, Maxim Gorky, N. Bukharin, K. Radek and S. Stetsky, present attempts to explain the line of “socialist realism” which followed that of the RAPP period.

3. When Leon Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution appeared in English, Michael Gold wrote of it in New Masses: “America needs a critic.” While disagreeing with Trotsky’s thesis concerning proletarian literature, Gold wrote:

“Trotsky’s book on literature is an amazing performance. This man is almost as universal as Leonardo da Vinci. The Revolution shares with the Renaissance the fact that men have again become versatile ... Trotsky was the most single-minded of pacifists but made himself the best general and mil1tary tactician in Europe. He is a great financial expert. He is now chief organizer of the reconstructed Russian industry. He helps direct the diplomacy. He reads and writes five or six languages, and knows the intimate affairs of every country in the world. Occupying a group of positions that would correspond to several cabinet offices in this country, combined with the presidency of the steel trust, and rubber, oil and textile industries, this man finds time to turn out at least two important books a year, some of which serve as textbooks in economics and history, besides scores of articles on industry, international politics, the Einstein theory, finance, Freud, the American agrarian situation. Chinese history, and labor movements, poetry, the atom, the stage – every phase of intelligence that the Revolution must use or understand ... Criticism like Trotsky’s is creative criticism.”

4. Trotsky’s thesis on literature is connected with his theory of permanent revolution and a discussion of it involves political and literary eschatology. Particularly in the light of the course of history since it was written, this is not now the aspect of his book most interesting for America. The value of the book in America now would he twofold: the specific literary studies of Russian writers and the attempt to found literary criticism on a materialistic and naturalistic basis.

5. These quotations are from Joseph Freeman’s summary of this group’s position, printed in Voices of October.

6. Ibid.

7. My own views concerning the categories of “bourgeois” and “proletarian” in literature, and concerning the literary notions in general advanced in this movement during this period are contained in my book, A Note on Literary Criticism, and therefore I shall not go into detail concerning them here.

8. Quoted in Joseph Freeman’s introduction to Proletarian Literature In the United States.

9. In this period, for instance, some attacks were made on John Dewey as an “idealistic” philosopher.

10. A good contrast in the moods and attitudes of the two periods is to be found in the proceedings of the first and second American Writers’ Congress, American Writers’ Congress, edited by Henry Hart, and in The Writer in a Changing World, also edited by Henry Hart.

11. Philip Rahv, Europe in Melodrama, The Nation, October 2, 1937.

12. The Daily Worker, October 12, 1937.

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