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Irving Howe

On the CP Intellectual Front

A Self-Portrait in a
Stalinist Writer’s Novel

(5 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 18, 5 May 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Judas Time,
by Isidore Schneider,
Dial Press.

THIS novel is an extraordinary document. Intended as a fierce fictional polemic against those who desert Stalinism, it develops into a terrifying and nightmarish picture of the life and mind of the Stalinist intellectual. As such it is an infinitely more revealing disclosure than any attempt by an “outsider” to analyze the Stalinist mind; it has a value for the political analyst similar to that which psychiatric inmate’s diary might have for an analyst; it is first-hand.

Schneider is one of the few intellectuals who have remained loyal to Stalinism. He must at one time have had some talent; one can see its petrified residue in this novel. But he long ago abandoned serious art and now writes according to the Stalinist dictum, “art is a weapon” – which means, in the case, of Stalinism, art is a whore.

What makes this book so morbidly fascinating is its involuntary portrait of the Stalinist intellectual atmosphere. Nothing that we have imagined about that atmosphere is as bleak, wretched, machine-like as its most ardent defender, Schneider, tells us. It is sheer horror – the horror not of a Dostoievski or a Kafka which as great art provides tragic release, but rather of a cheap movie calculated to destroy sensibility.

Ostensibly it is a novel about Calvin Cain, a neurotic intellectual whose inner imperfections and compulsions lead him to question the Wisdom of the party and desert to Trotskyism. This snarling wretch visits Trotsky who entrusts him with a mission to Russia. (Trotsky, as is well known, made a habit of sending every stray visitor on “secret” missions ...). Traveling across Germany, Cain is happy to observe the Nazi strength; in Russia, his plot is foiled. The gentle folk of Stalinland cure him of an illness, the Russian doctor even refusing to take a fee, and Cain returns to America, where he turns stool-pigeon and acknowledges at the end that he is in the pay of the ruling powers.

A Self-Portrait

As a portrait – even unfavorable, even highly critical – of a Trotskyist, this is simply silly. For, however evil our characters, we are at least human beings, and Cain is nothing of the kind. Cain is rather a Grade-B Hollywood villain – or, to probe a little deeper into the novel’s genesis, he is really an involuntarily-portrayed aspect of Schneider himself.

Towering over the human beings stands the Stalinist Party: the Pillar of God. Though the hero and central character of the novel, the party only manifests itself indirectly in one character, Jack Burrell, a functionary. But the party is everywhere, a super-structure dominating, judging, inviolable, unquestioned, incomprehended, omniscient and omnipresent. It is the prison of life in which these people are jailed. A few are let out to take an occasional airing, but they return voluntarily; they must have a cell.

In Schneider’s world-view, one may question everything but the party. Jack Burrell, the functionary, is much like Stalin: he never discusses ideas; he tolerates discussion by others so long as they are within the bounds of Stalinist orthodoxy; he is the Man of Silence and Strength; he watches, arranges, manipulates; he does no wrong; he seldom talks, but like Stalin he usually grunts. No more damning portrait of the bureaucratic type has been drawn – one can imagine this Burrell confining thousands of dissidents to a Siberian labor camp while eating an apple. The fact that it comes from a Stalinist spokesman makes it all the more triumphantly valid.

Pillar of God

Compared to Burrell, the other Stalinists are weak and, one occasionally suspects, even human. But what is so amazing is that in The Judas Time the Virtuous, the loyal followers of Stalinism, are not as human beings different from the Evil. That the Evil are evil, all the faithful know; but that the Virtuous are such fools, so empty-headed, such slobbering nincompoops, will surely give the faithful a jolt. A preachment in which evil cannot be distinguished from good results in a Morality Play of Zombies.

For what the book reveals is not this world, nor any world recognizable to most human beings; it reveals rather the world of Isidor Schneider. If the party is the Pillar of God, how unworthy then are mere human beings? No wonder they search for the warm rest of authority. I know it is a much-too fashionable phrase these days, but one really cannot think .of any way to characterize these people than as in “search for a father”; perhaps even more, ii\ search for complete obliteration of the need for personality and thought, the willful escape from, freedom’s responsibilities.

Consider a novel in which two “intellectuals” seriously discuss whether landscape painting lulls the workers into acceptance of social evil or stirs them to discontent!

Consider the following as a picture of life in the Stalinist Party: “At the mere summons to the hearing Schroeder collapsed. He arrived looking like a man who had left a sick bed. He offered no defense. He reviled himself as a ‘coward, vacillator.’ ... He eulogized Calvin, his accuser, as a ‘monolith’ of staunchness and fervently thanked him for not having spurned him as he deserved but, instead, having stretched out his strong and generous hand to pull him out in. time from the quicksand of renegacy.

“On Calvin’s motion the decision was that Schroeder retain party membership on a year’s probation. For this decision Schroeder was deliriously grateful. Through sobs he thanked his comrades for their proletarian mercy; and the women and most of the men wept with him. in a spontaneous rite of reconciliation git crowded around to grip his hand.” (My emphasis – I.H.)

If anyone but Schneider had written this passage, would not such a writer have been accused of hysteria and exaggeration?

That is life in the Stalinist Party: a self-made prison.

Throughout the b0ok one theme predominates: since the party is the Pillar of God, what can mere mortals do but confess? Before his renegacy, Calvin writes a letter of confession to himself in which he encloses a razor to slit his throat if he as much as wavers from the party. (“My vow! If I betray working class let me die! Will judge myself and carry out the judgment. Have no revolver or cyanide here. Razor blade will do. If occasion comes give me courage to cut my throat.”) [1] Then the Schroeder confession I have quoted above. Then the confession of an unfortunate who followed Cain’s apostacy and discovered too late that he had left the True Faith.



1. This, be it noted, is the first Moscow Trial document ever written in Pidgeon English.

It is an appropriate theme; the theme of the intellectual underworld, of the wretched, cringing creatures who form the Stalinist intelligentsia. It is not the least horrifying aspect of modern life.

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