Commentary Magazine


What Happened in the 30's

For the last two decades almost everyone has been trying to forget what happened in the 30′s; now, suddenly, everyone is trying to remember. Ideas that had been written off are back in circulation again, and commitments that for years had been dismissed as “irresponsible” are once more taken seriously. The explanation is not so hard to find, but it is sticky and takes us into problems we do not like to face. For the new turn means that temperate solutions having failed, people are looking again for radical ones.

In this see-saw of beliefs and commitments lies the main story of our time. And to ask what happened in the 30′s is only a way of asking what is happening today.

The going version of the story is that the radical spirit ruled the 30′s while the 40′s and 50′s were dedicated to conservatism, philistinism, chauvinism, and that now the pendulum is swinging once more to the left. This picture is really too simple, and comes out of the sentimental association of radicalism with purity. It ignores the unsavory side of the radical movement, brought mostly by the Communists, just as it leaves out the legitimate distaste for party-line thinking that originally led many people to break with ideas and organizations linked to the Communists. Still, the going version of the story does contain a certain amount of truth. The fact is that despite all the illusions and duplicities of the 30′s, it was a time when human aims seemed more attractive than national goals and when articulate people talked more about the hope for an ideal society than the benefits of the existing one. It was a time when responsibility meant responsibility to ideas and convictions, justice seemed more important than expediency, the greater good meant more than the lesser evil, dreams seemed more cogent than reality.

Mostly, the 30′s was a period of contradictions. It was a time of sense and nonsense, idealism and cynicism, morality and immorality, disinterestedness and power drive, and it was a time when it was possible to believe simultaneously in democracy and dictatorship, in an anti-human abstraction called History and in a moral idea of man usually regarded as unhistori-cal. It seemed possible to believe in everything and its opposite; and a theory of dialectics along with a politics of expediency were used to rationalize the untenable and justify the reprehensible.

If we are content to itemize these pluses and minuses and to reiterate that they add up to a state of contradiction, it is not so difficult to say what happened in the 30′s, and what has happened since then. The trouble starts when we try to figure out the exact relation of sense to nonsense, of right to wrong, both in the radical tradition and in the swing away from it toward the center and the right. For this means we must decide whether the radicalism of the 30′s was an aberration or a movement in the main line of history, or both, and whether the anti-radical mood that followed was a reaction against being taken in or a reconciliation with things as they are. What we think of these periods has to do as much with the future as with the past.

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One could deal with such problems systematically. But I have been struck, from the beginning, by a question that gets to the heart of the subject: how the radical movement in this country—which included not only the Communists but all the splinter groups on the left—could at the same time be so marginal, so parochial, so mindless, and also so relevant and so central. I am thinking mostly of the literary and intellectual side of the radical movement—which could take Mike Gold, Jack Conroy, and Edwin Seaver as important writers—though I am not exempting completely its politics, which resembled most of the other great radical movements of the past in everything except the level and subtlety of its thinking. Despite the sweep of its ideas, despite the fact that the radical movement—rightly or wrongly, it does not matter—addressed itself to the major issues of modern life, in America it always seemed alien and offbeat, like some avant-garde tendency that had not yet become respectable. There was an enormous incongruity between the claims of the left to relevance, centrality, universality, and the sectarian crudity of almost everything it said and did. People who spoke for the future had the most shaky relation to the present.

An example of this incongruity is the John Reed Clubs. The John Reed Clubs were supposed to be organizations of left-wing writers and artists, scattered throughout the country. But they were made up mostly of aspiring writers and artists, part of the army of magazine rejectees, and of cultural functionaries who tried to overcome their creative frustrations by attending endless meetings and making passionate speeches about such unreal subjects as the “culture” of the working class. Yet most accounts of the 30′s miss this peculiar, almost pathetic, combination of deception and self-deception, this perpetual activity which not only furthered the doctrines of the Communists but also filled the lives of people who found their way to art through politics, by all kinds of cultural bustling. Richard Wright’s account in The God That Failed of the convention of the John Reed Clubs in Chicago is an instance of the failure to convey the tone of the organization. As Wright tells it, the story of the convention sounds like an epic of soul-searchings and heroic statements about art and society. The truth is that the result of the meeting, the disbanding of the John Reed Clubs, was decided in advance; and most of the speeches one after another either advocated dissolution or recited the non-existent achievements of each club.

One wonders—one even wondered then—whether or how, such people change the world: and for the better?

Incongruities of this sort crop up constantly both in politics and in art. Revolutionary movements usually begin in the wings, in an intellectual ghetto, and the transfer from the marginal to the central is a matter of shifting the balance of power. In art, too, particularly in modern times, the familiar course is from the fringe to the center. It is not simply that a new work gets praised often enough until it becomes a classic; frequently, as in Joyce and Kafka, works that lie solidly in the middle of the tradition were regarded as alien and aberrated when they first appeared. It is as though the main stream must periodically have the look of a creek.

Thus, there would seem to be precedents for the incongruities of the 30′s. Yet this was not just another instance of the typical disguised as the marginal, of the sage in the role of the outcast. It was not only the novelty and originality of the left, its genuinely radical quality, that gave it an alien look. The fact is there was something alien, something inauthentic, in the crude and sectarian form into which Marxist ideas had been squeezed by the official Communists. This is not to say that the movement was entirely inauthentic; it means that it was not free to make its own mistakes.

In this combination of authentic and inauthentic elements lies the key not only to the 30′s but to what is going on today. The mixed character of the left is of course not a secret, but for polemical reasons one or the other part of the mixture usually has been ignored. The right, for example, constantly plays down the authentic side, the legitimacy of revolt; the left, on the other hand, often glosses over breaches of democracy. (A good current example is Cuba: conservatives deny the just goals of the revolution; radicals tend to close their eyes to the injustices.) In the 30′s we saw the first, traumatic eruption of these contradictory forces, which insofar as they are free are revolutionary and insofar as they are tied to Soviet interests serve bureaucratic and dictatorial ends. The situation is further complicated by the fact that this country has seceded, more than is commonly assumed, from European thinking. Hence Marxism, which grew out of the European mind, was not able to take on a native accent and thus seemed all the more alien.

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For a time the true character of the 30′s was obscured by political bias. Now it is blurred by the opposite tendency : the failure to make distinctions. Today anything in the past, sense and nonsense, of all political shades, is filed away under History, and what with the new interest in the 30′s, the machinery of scholarship has been put to work full-time to set the record straight. But frequently those chosen for this task have been scholars whose main qualification is that they know nothing of the period or the subject, and are thus through ignorance endowed with objectivity. (Objectivity, so far as I can tell, means an inability to make discriminating judgments.) The turn against revolutionary theory, having become a turn against theory, works to idealize raw facts and to break down the distinctions not only between theories but between different kinds of facts. For you can distinguish between facts as well as theories only on the basis of some theories, some assumptions, some idea of the past and of the future. Hence the native suspicion of theory in this country has combined with the reaction against left ideology and with the new academicism to produce bland, homogenized histories of radicalism that sound like retroactive tape-recordings.

Daniel Aaron’s recent Writers on the Left1 is freer of these faults than most other histories of the period. I suppose Aaron would be the best choice if one were looking for an intelligent and open-minded historian. His book is a remarkably balanced and fair account of a period that was made up mostly of intellectual infighting. On the theoretical side, Aaron’s sober treatment of the question of why so many writers went left, part or all the way, should serve as an antidote to the notion of Communism as nothing but a “conspiracy,” bandied about by reactionaries and obsessive anti-Communists—a notion which absolves people from thinking about history. On the factual side, the book is bound to be most valuable as a reference work, particularly to supply the facts for those who want to argue about the meaning of the period.

But the pile-up of the facts gave me the feeling of reliving rather than re-examining or re-thinking the period. What I mean is that in reading the book one is carried back to the feeling of being engaged in a day-to-day way in the hum of things, and one loses one’s sense of perspective. This is particularly disturbing to one who, like myself, lived through these events. For, by being thrown back, I was constantly reminded of the claustrophobic excitement and absurdity of the 30′s and of my own feeling of wanting to escape the breathless activity that twisted almost everything that counted, without losing the idea of oneself as a radical.

What comes through strongly in Aaron’s book is the vulgarity and the idiocy, much more strongly than the idealism, which is taken for granted; and when the idealism does appear in the statements of the leading figures, like Mike Gold or Granville Hicks, it is so loaded with a militant philistinism of the left, almost inevitably so, that one wonders how it could ever have existed in any other form. And since Aaron is committed to a scholarly neutrality, it is difficult for him to separate independent ideas from orthodoxies or from free-lance nonsense that was officially tolerated, and all these things are given equal importance as they are paraded before one in a procession of dates, documents, meetings, arguments. For example, the mixture of native populism and imported Marxism, vulgarized for organizational purposes, that gave Communist rhetoric its characteristic flavor, is put on the same plane as efforts by people like Edmund Wilson and those who wrote for Partisan Review to work out a position on their own. Also all kinds of statements, even those made retroactively for purposes of self-justification, like those of Joseph Freeman, are given equal weight. Aaron’s seeming lack of bias actually produces a biased view of the 30′s, the bias coming from the assumption that something called the “record” is identical with the history.

But there is also an explicit bias—a conventional one—in the assumption that breaking was better than staying in the fold. If there are any heroes and villains, then the villains are those who stuck with the party and the heroes those who eventually saw the light. Hence figures like Max Eastman, Joseph Freeman, Granville Hicks, Dos Passos, come off pretty well, though the fact that none of them had much to say at that time that might be interesting today is glossed over by Aaron. Actually Aaron’s idea of the 30′s is currently the most enlightened, liberal view: like an indulgent parent, it sees the 30′s as a stage of wildness which one outgrows. Thus by making the frivolous and the serious sides of the 30′s indistinguishable from each other, both of them are played down. And by playing down its serious side, its revolutionary side, the failures of the 30′s are made to look like lapses in intellectual history.

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Since we cannot come intellectually unarmed to these questions we must begin with one or another bias. And, paradoxically, we can reach some kind of objectivity only through the power and depth of our bias. My own bias amounts to a polemical position developed in the 30′s and one which I am still more or less committed to. This position, shared mostly by a group of young writers associated at that time with Partisan Review, was for purity in politics and impurity in literature. Politically, this meant a stand for morality in politics. In literature, it meant a radicalism rooted in tradition and open to experiment, and an awareness that the imagination could not be contained within any orthodoxy. It meant that one could not rule out any literary beliefs or forms as incompatible with socialist aims. For example, T. S. Eliot’s ideological conservatism automatically made him taboo in official leftist circles, but to the group around Partisan Review he was a major poet, and a revolutionary one, who—as Edmund Wilson put it in Axel’s Castle—had accomplished in the area of sensibility a breakthrough analogous to Marxism in political thought.

Such a position really amounted to a complete break with the Communists though this was not perhaps so clear at the beginning because the conflict was muffled by practical pressures and by the illusion that the Communists were educable. Generally, we were aware of the party’s effects on thinking and writing before we understood what was wrong politically. As I now see it, it was the inauthenticity of the radical movement that many of us who youthfully were drawn to it turned against. The accepted view of the 30′s, and one that Aaron shares, is that Marxist—or Communist—doctrine was grafted on to native radicalism. But what is usually overlooked is that American radicalism was of a very special kind. It was essentially populist, insular, anti-intellectual; and most of its standard-bearers had a characteristically rough-and-ready American style.

The earlier figures, like Eugene Debs, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Max Haywood, Floyd Dell, were particularly homegrown in their outlook and their tone. But it is most significant that even later writers, like John Reed, Mike Gold, Max Eastman, and Joseph Freeman, did not break with the grass-roots tradition, and some of them—Mike Gold, for example—actively promoted it. In effect, then, the radical movement in the 30′s, particularly in the arts, got its accent from the more primitive, egalitarian, plain-speaking strains in American culture.

Now we know that there have been two dominant strains in American culture, and in choosing the “folk” tradition while repudiating the “intellectual” one, the radical movement was taking a political as well as a literary stand. And why, one must ask, did it take that stand? After all, the Marxist movement was nothing if not ideological, full of historical portents and meanings and connections. It actually was a haven for people who preferred theories to facts; and much of the resistance to Marxism in this country came from the native empirical, anti-ideological temper. It seems to me, therefore, that if the radical movement had been permitted to follow its natural course it would never have become entangled with the free-wheeling, grass roots tradition. It would have been urban, intellectual, and critical, as it was in the writings of Marx and Engels, and even later in Plekhanov and Lukacs. And I think left-wing writers on their own would have come to terms with literary tradition instead of rejecting it outright or latching on to its crudest expressions. They would at least have tried to relate themselves to the most advanced, the most “radical” (in a literary sense) figures and currents: to Joyce and to Kafka rather than to Jack London and Upton Sinclair, to the School of Paris and not to our domestic naturalists. Who knows?—we might have been spared all those proletarian novels and pictures of workers that made a principle of amateurism and banality. But the movement was not a free one; and in the end it must be said that the needs of the Communist party determined the literary course of American radicalism.

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Why this was so is not entirely clear. But it does seem natural for a bureaucracy to celebrate the “culture” of the common man, partly as a compensation for control and also as a means of creating the illusion of freedom. An undemocratic organization favors the rise to power of bureaucratic types who out of ignorance or envy encourage a contempt for intellectual traditions. As one re-reads some of the salutes to illiteracy quoted in Aaron’s book, all in the name of democracy, one is struck by the fact that this was really an assault on the “establishment.” Personal and party interests came together in this alliance of functionaries with writers who were not successful and amateurs who became writers by joining literary clubs and parading as spokesmen for the working class. Behind the crude aesthetics lay the question of power.

Power meant organizational control and manipulation of people and ideas. But it also took a negative form: the resistance tended to be expressed in literary dissidence. For dissidence made itself felt through a criticism of crude, agitational, populist slogans—like the idea of art as a weapon, or that of proletarian art—and in an insistence that art be separated from party politics. Most dissidents did not go along with the rejection of past culture as “bourgeois” culture, nor did they accept the orthodox notion that “tradition” was the baggage of reactionaries. Of course, their idea of tradition was a selective one, but only the academy thinks of tradition as the sum of all the values and works of the past, to be taken over intact by new periods and writers. Each new work and each new idea is subversive, but instead of destroying all links with the past it creates new links. “Tradition” is an ever-changing sense of the past, a retroactive revolution.

In this respect, all radical literary movements are alike, whether or not they are tied to a radical politics. And one need hardly point out again that most of the literature of the last hundred years was rooted in a criticism of society or in some idea of revolt, or in some Utopian principle. Sometimes, as in a writer like Zola, for example, the connections were explicit; in someone like Rimbaud, the legendary revolté, the radical break is expressed through a derangement of reality. In any case the assertion of the new rearranges but does not deny the past. And within the Communist movement it was the archdissident, Trotsky, who came out for this principle of radical continuity. He not only dismissed the whole idea of proletarian art as a bureaucratic myth, but he also said he believed, in opposition to official doctrine, that all radical literary movements in this period were bound to be bohemian and avant-garde.

As I see it, this was the conflict on the left in the 30′s: the conflict between a free-floating radical spirit and a historical force that both channeled it and throttled it. But this was not only the literary conflict; it was also the heart of the political one. For the Communist movement killed the idea of socialism for western intellectuals at the same time that it planted it in masses of people throughout the world. Hence to be a revolutionary socialist in America or Europe meant being a Utopian and having nothing to do with power, while to be a socialist in Latin America, for example, meant being related to power and dissociated from any traditional—or utopian—ideals of the free mind. It is much easier to be an authentic radical when one is not tempted by power. What ultimately compromised the idea of socialism was the possibility of putting it into practice, and almost immediately the question raised by the character of the Soviet Union was whether the lack of democracy was accidental or inevitable.

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If much of the history of the left has been obscured, it has been because many beliefs held in the 30′s were abandoned without being refuted. They were simply assumed to be false though no one bothered to cite the proof. The proof was in the air, and the new generations just inhaled it, along with all the other advanced ideas that were taken for granted. This is one reason why the revival of left-wing attitudes today has brought confusion.

Actually, the enthusiasm for socialism that flourished in the 30′s waned quite slowly, as we went through several stages of skepticism and disaffection. The first shock came with the discovery that the new utopia was a dictatorship. The disillusionment reached its peak during the purges and the Moscow trials. But for some years the disaffection was with the Russian variety rather than with the principle of socialism. The question whether this was the natural form a socialist movement must take once it seizes power was simply never resolved. What happened instead was that the anti-Communist recoil was so strong and the possibility of creating a free socialist movement so weak that the concern with socialism began to wither away. After a time it was just assumed that the verdict of history was in—against socialism. And, as we can now see, the anti-Communist mood merged with a growing acceptance of the life of this country, and of the West, as a whole. Content does not usually stimulate radical feelings; and any discontent that could not be repressed was diffused into concern with the human condition, as in existentialism, or transformed into sexual revolt, which has become the rebellious mode of our time. Socialism—indeed any form of radicalism—was assumed to be a doctrine for those romantics who were either too young to remember the past or too old to forget it.

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This, as we know, is the way things stood until just a few years ago, when suddenly the intellectual mood became a radical one again. The moderates and conservatives were brushed aside. The thinkers who had presided over the return to the fold were abruptly dismissed as having nothing to say to this period: having played out their role as apologists they could now be installed as the elder statesmen of the status quo. The campuses were teeming with meetings, and marches, and protests, first on the issue of civil rights and then on the issue of nuclear war. And writers began to exhibit again the radical badges of their profession. It looked as though we were back in the 30′s.

But there was a big difference: the left was no longer political in the old sense, in the sense of having a vision of a new society, and a theory to support it. The left was concerned not with society but with humanity, or rather with the threat of its annihilation by a nuclear war. The radical movement became a peace movement. There were many reasons for this shift, some having to do with the exhaustion of the old radical tradition and the failure to create a new one, but mostly it was because the spectre of total destruction had made the ordinary problems of social change look academic. This is our paradox. A radical politics requires a sense of stability and continuity, a span of time, and, ironically, this is precisely what the new weapons have destroyed. You can no longer transform society in time of war—in the time, that is, between the launching and landing of a missile; nor can you transform it in time of peace, for then you might risk the possibility of war, without disturbing the delicate balance of terror on which peace depends.

History has a remarkable way of providing—in a Hegelian sense—the necessary (though not always the right) force for the moment. And the peace movement looks like just such an inevitable force. It seems almost as though all the bottled up feelings of wide-eyed hope and fear in the era of the missile have exploded into the “peace movement;” and through its very chaos, its spontaneity, its amateurism, the peace movement as a whole expresses the unusual combination of uto-pianism and practicality so typical of political idealism today.

In another way, however, the 60′s do mark a return to the problem of the 30′s, but turned inside out. For the 60′s, like the 30′s, are concerned with the revolutionary assault on existing society promoted by the Soviet Union, but this time the assault relies as much on military power as on political manipulation. As in the 30′s, the prescription for change is in the Marxist critique of capitalism, and in an ideology for liberation and technological fulfillment for backward societies. But the important difference is that in the 30′s choices presented themselves in organizational forms; and Western intellectuals felt they had to define themselves in relation to parties and movements, to organized zealots who talked in the name of history. Today, however, it might be said that we face history directly. For one thing, the power of the Soviet Union is such that the ideology of the state has taken the place of the ideology of the party. But more important is the fact that revolutionary change throughout the world is a reality, not just a threat, that haunts the West. And if there should be no war, the so-called peaceful competition between West and East is really very little more than an enactment on a global scale of the intellectual arguments of the 30′s. One is dazzled to see in official form what used to be the problems of an intellectual underground: today for example, the American government must actually cope in Latin America with the old factional, intra-mural questions of whether a backward country could solve its problems under an enlightened capitalism, and if not, whether a revolutionary regime could preserve democratic forms.

The avante-garde questions of the 30′s have become the mass questions of today, and, as has happened frequently in matters of culture, Western intellectuals have lost their particular stake in them. The politics of the intellectuals has become the politics of governments, which means that intellectuals today have no independent politics. Practical intellectuals are busy telling the government how to use its power; impractical ones are trying to get the government to give up its power—by disarmament.

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But whatever the continuity of radical politics, there seems to be no continuity in literature. For the unnatural situation of the 30′s cannot be duplicated; and even the Communist countries, particularly Poland, are having difficulty holding on to the notion that art is a branch of politics. If the literary radicalism of the 30′s had any lasting effect in this country, it was mainly to reinforce the populist, egalitarian, anti-intellectual attitudes so deeply rooted in American history. Most of all what the left did was to make intellectually respectable popular attitudes that literature in the past had either attacked or ignored. In the 20′s, we recall, writing found most of its excitement in being alienated, advanced, experimental. There were exceptions, of course, but most writing was anti-social, anti-philistine, unpolitical; much of it was by liberal standards reactionary; and it carried the elan of a minority, as it snubbed the idea of audience and was impatient with the idea that literature was, along with politics, civil liberties, and housing, part of a general good.

If we think of the era before the left took over as being dominated or expressed by such writers as Proust, Joyce, Mann, Lawrence, it becomes evident that, beginning with the 30′s, there has been a major shift of sensibility. All of these figures, now dangling like classics, created large, unified visions, of the kind no longer sought after by writers; and the reason, I think, is that the opposition of contemporary writing to contemporary life takes place within the accepted world, while the writers of the earlier period were really creating another, self-contained system. Of Lawrence or Joyce or Kafka, for example, it can be said that each in his own way was constructing some ideal consciousness, some pure vision that was not only revolutionary but also messianic, and was rooted in the assumption of a moral and intellectual elite. In a Nietzschean sense, literature was conceived as an act of breaking through the accepted categories: which is why so much writing of the 20′s was anti-naturalist, mythic, obsessive, and ultimately moral in its search for a new kind of wholeness and authenticity. If we compare Gide’s or Proust’s handling of a perverse theme with that of Nabokov, what strikes us most is that Proust, by transforming the theme, treated it as part of the human condition, and Gide turned it into a moral conflict between one’s nature and one’s responsibilities. Nabokov, on the other hand, handles a morally subversive theme as though it were odd but not unacceptable, and he gives it an air of normality by using a picaresque form and a prose so smooth and facile that it makes Lolita sound like another funny story. Similarly, most new fiction—and many of the new movies—give the impression of having broken through the sexual taboos. But here, too, the point is that both the fiction and the movies are simply reflecting free-wheeling habits already taken for granted in more advanced circles.

It is difficult—and risky—to generalize about these trends. But I do think it can be said that after the 30′s writing took to greater realism in style and theme, to smaller subjects, to more recognizable worlds. Quality aside, an important difference is that writing now is continuous with a common experience while in the past it might almost be said that writing competed with experience. There have been, of course, exceptions like Faulkner, who out of detachment wrote as though nothing had changed, or someone like E. M. Forster, who links the past with the present. Then, too, of contemporary Americans, Saul Bellow’s fiction has its own boundaries, and writers like Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud, or Mary McCarthy are by no means the naturalists they are sometimes taken to be. Recently, too, the trend has shown signs of reversal: Beckett and Genet (in their plays) remind us of the earlier generalizations of experience which could be at once true and unreal, and whose energy lay in a kind of warped idealism. The new novelists in France, whom I do not find very exciting, also are attempting to break with common assumptions through a new style of observation, a so-called higher objectivity.

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What I am suggesting is that the radical movement of the 30′s broke the radical spirit of literature by lowering its sights and making it more palatable for popular consumption. And, in this country, at least, the process of intellectual domestication fits in with the growing middle-class market for culture. The new audience for books and magazines, which was earnest, progressive, freed from moral and sexual taboos, overcivilized and undereducated—this new monster of consumption required the most serious and the best writing so long as it did not go beyond the limits of its experience and imagination. This is the tyranny of the enlightened audience. But it was not simply a commercial alliance between producer and consumer: the idea of the audience is an old standby of populists, reformers, and educators, and it was given a stamp of approval by the forces of the left in the 30′s. One is, of course, tempted to say that this tyranny of the audience got its political impetus from the perversions of the left, and is not inherent in socialist doctrine. Still, the modern idea of progress does contain a belief in cultural improvement, and this means cultural servicing which, in turn, creates the shape and power of the audience.

One must conclude that radical literature reaches for an ideal rather than a real audience, for the real audience whether commercially or, as in Russia, politically manipulated, or simply formed by the inertia of the culture, tends to house-break writers and preserve the illusion that the culture is all of a piece. The ideal audience, on the other hand, is constantly being recreated, and is continuous not with itself but with the history of new writing and new ideas. This is why the darlings of a kept audience rarely survive.

It now looks as though a radical literature and a radical politics must be kept apart. For radical politics of the modern variety has really served as an antidote to literature. The moral hygiene, the puritanism, the benevolence, the rationalism—all the virtues that sprout on the left—work like a cure for the perverse and morbid idealism of the modern writer. If writing is to be thought of as radical it must be in a deeper sense, in the sense not simply of cutting across the grain of contemporary life but also of reaching for the connections between the real and the forbidden and the fantastic. The classic example is Dostoevsky, who, by connecting human with historical logic, found a moral thread running through the psychology of crime and the politics of revolution.

Maybe the lesson of the 30′s is that radical politics has not been able to escape the dilemma of being distorted by power or left hanging without power, while literature to be radical need not—perhaps cannot—be tied to radical politics.

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Footnotes

1 Harcourt, Brace & World, 460 pp., $7.50.

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