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John G. Wright

Prize Novel

(February 1936)

From New International, Vol.3, No.1, February 1936, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Marching! Marching!
By Clara Weatherwax.
John Day Co. New York. $1.90.

It is, certainly, a desperate scramble for the hangers-on of the communist party to keep up with the impulsive party line these days. The unfortunate faithful can’t tell when they go to bed tonight what political principles they will believe tomorrow. They have to read the morning’s Daily Worker before they know how to greet the socialist next door and the minister down the block.

Clara Weatherwax, whose novel won the New Masses “prize contest for a novel on an American proletarian theme”, fortunately manages to get under the current wire. True enough, she must have been a little worried by the Seventh Congress – which took place, evidently, after her manuscript was finished. She has plenty of “united [front” (though it is not at all clear just who is being united), but there is a sad lack of “People’s Front”. And she still clings to a deviation or two on the AF of L. You can almost gather from her book that there are several labor fakers left among the old-line bureaucrats. And she has, I am forced to report, some quite disrespectful things to say about churchmen which will doubtless keep Marching! Marching! off the American League’s preferred list.

But these are after all minor matters. An introductory notice is proudly able to announce:

“Clara Weatherwax stems from pre-Mayflower New England stock, which has pioneered across the American continent ... One of her outstanding forebears was Roger Williams. Fourteen of her direct ancestors fought in the first American revolution. Others fought in the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and many of her family were in the World War.”

This should certainly be able to qualify her – even for Stalinism, 1936 variety. It is one of her own worker-heroes who comes through on page 208 with the triumphant discovery: “‘They talk about radical foreign stuff! Say, Communism is Americanism! That’s what! Americanism!’” As Earl Browder might put it: “That’s just what we communists have been trying to tell you all along, and in particular since the question was so decisively analyzed by comrade Dimitroff.” And, no doubt, the claim will be amply proved as US imperialism moves forward into the new world war.

As for the novel itself, it is a travesty on literature and a libel against the working class. Its style is the dregs of the Joyce tradition, drained off through the worst of Wolfe and Faulkner, combined with school-essay “straightforward” writing. Its characters are wooden monstrosities, conceived with a kind of horrible masochistic delight in repulsive details and an infantile pleasure in trivial nobilities. The book is liberally interlarded with long speeches on war, strikes, trade unions, Fascism, apparently lifted from back copies of the Daily Worker.

What is tragic is to realize that even in a book so bad as this there are materials, lost in the morass, for genuine and even great literature. Not the least in the charges of the indictment against Stalinism must be the stultification of intelligence and sensibility to which it condemns its adherents.



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