BY JOHN STRACHEY
COVICI ‑ FRIEDE ‑ PUBLISHERS
COPYRIGHT 1934, BY JOHN STRACHEY
This essay is revised and enlarged
from the text of a lecture delivered,
under the title Literature and Fascism,
before the John Reed Club of New York
All rights reserved. No part at this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper.
MANUFACTURED IN THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
BY J. J. LITTLE AND IVES COMPANY, NEW YORK
TYPOGRAPHY NY ROBERT JOSEPHY
Thanks are due the following publishers for permission to quote from their publications material which appears in this book:
Harcourt, Brace & Company, for a quotation from The Modern Temper, by Joseph Wood Krutch,
Houghton Mifflin Company, for selections from Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller's City, by Archibald MacLeish,
Random House, for a quotation from Poems by Stephen Spender, and
Charles Scribner's Sons, for the two quotations from Winner Take Nothing by Ernest Hemingway.
I DO NOT think it will be necessary to spend very much time in demonstrating the profoundly anti‑cultural character of fascism. The dramatic anti‑cultural outbreaks of the Nazis are fresh in our minds. The public burning of the books of nearly all the greatest authors of Germany, the exile and robbing of Einstein, the exile of many of Germany's best musicians, actors, and actresses, the ruin of the German cinema, and the prohibition of all modern, rational architectural methods * are all events which cannot be denied, but which must be understood.
What we have to consider is the reason of the deadly enmity of fascism for every form of culture. For anti-cultural activities are by no means confined to the German Nazis. Italian fascism, too, in a much more subtle way, has proved itself utterly inimical to cultural activity. A friend of mine recently visited Italy with the object of making a study of Italian literature. My friend is not a Communist or a Marxist: she is not primarily interested in politics. What was her surprise when she discovered that there was no modern Italian literature to study!
She could obtain in the Italian bookshops no works of
* Hitler tells us in his autobiography, ''Mein Kampf," that he considers that the British Houses of Parliament are one of the architectural masterpieces of Europe. As a sometime denizen of that building, I can appreciate to the full the abysmal barbarism of that judgment.
any importance or interest. When she asked for modern novels, belles‑lettres, or poetry, she was always given reprints of French, English, German or American books. Thus it appears that, while culture was murdered in Germany, it has slowly died in Italy. The difference in the violence of the two processes is, no doubt, accounted for by the fact that German culture was a much more powerful, much broader, a much deeper thing than Italian culture.
It is fascism in general, then, not any peculiar characteristic of the Nazis, which kills culture. But why should this be so? What is there about fascism which impels it towards every form of barbarism? What is the explanation of this organised revival of every kind of superstition and illusion? At first sight there seems to be no necessary connection between fascism and mystical, anti‑cultural activities. Why is it, then, that fascism undeniably attempts by terror, torture, and every form of violence, to break off the continuity of human thought, to end that vital cultural tradition which has come down to us through the centuries?
I do not think that the answer to this question is in doubt: the tradition of human culture, the slow, cumulative development of human thought in every field has now reached a point which must inevitably lead the mind of every man or woman, which is seized of this tradition, to certain conclusions. And these inescapable conclusions are extremely inconvenient to the most powerful interests in the capitalist world today.
Now fascism, it can be shown quite conclusively, is a last desperate attempt to maintain the present capitalist system. It is, whatever illusions the rank and file of fascist parties may harbour about what they are doing, an attempt on the part of the greatest capitalists and biggest bankers to maintain their power, their rule over society, at all costs. In order to do this, fascism has, of course, certain primary tasks. It must, and does, attempt at all costs to break to pieces the political and economic organisations of the working class, viz., the working‑class political parties, the co-operatives and trades unions.
But this, it soon turns out, is not enough. For the capitalist system, which fascism has to defend, becomes every day more irrational. more inexplicable to human reason. This is what we mean when we speak of "the contradiction of capitalism": and the main and central contradiction of capitalism is the fact that our power to produce wealth increases in almost direct ratio with our actual poverty and starvation. This fact stands out more and more starkly and inescapably. The more "advanced" and "progressive" a capitalist government is, the more we find that its actual activities consist in the organised, deliberate destruction of wealth: the ploughing‑in of cotton, the burning of wheat, the throwing of coffee into the sea, or in buying up industrial plant in order that it shall never be used again. And all this destructive activity goes on while there is a great and bitter lack of commodities among vast sections of the population.
Now even the simplest mind balks and reels before such facts. You cannot begin to find any rational explanation of why corn is being burnt in one place while people are starving for lack of it in another. The mind rebels against such a situation. And the rebellion of a man's mind is the beginning, though only the beginning, of the rebellion of the whole man.
We begin to see why it is necessary for the fascists, whose object it is to perpetuate our more and more irrational capitalist system, to assail in every conceivable way the supremacy of human reason. You will remember the famous edict of the semi‑fascist government of Japan which makes it illegal for the Japanese people to entertain "dangerous thoughts." It has remained for the European fascists to take the obvious next step. They have realised that from their point of view all thoughts are today dangerous thoughts. They have grasped the fact that all logic and reason is dangerous to the continuance of the capitalist system. For once you begin to think about that system and its present consequences you will be driven into opposition to it.
Hence, the Nazis, both in propaganda, and by practical destructive action, attempt to prevent any mental activity which can be dignified by the name of thinking. Nazi propaganda reiterates a hundred times that cerebration is an unimportant, contemptible activity; that good Nordics "think their blood"; that only inferior creatures, such as Jews, non‑Aryans, pacifists, Marxists, and the like, attach impor-
tance to such logical conclusions as that twice two make four and not five. If Nordic blood tells us that two and two make five, then they do. For this "blood‑thinking" is superior to "brain-thinking" and we should base our actions upon it. I do not think that there is any doubt but that this is the explanation of why fascism attacks every form of culture.
But if it is thus necessary for fascism to assail every form of human thought, human feeling, and human creating, how much more must it attack what is today the one adequate synthesis of human cultural development? An immense amount of the culture and thinking which fascism destroys is itself inadequate, muddled, and inconclusive. A very great part of human culture is today itself in a very parlous condition. It had already got into a blind alley before ever the fascist thugs set upon it. Accordingly, it is proving easy game.
One part of human culture is intensely alive, however; it is confident, vital, and effective; it does offer an adequate clue to the situation of the human race today. We should expect, therefore, that fascism would direct its most violent assault upon this cultural system; and this is precisely what we do find.
Now this new synthesis (I refer, of course, to dialectical materialism) is by no means discontinuous with pre‑existing human culture. On the contrary, it is the direct product of that great cultural tradition which was elaborated in the last
five or six centuries, that cultural tradition which came to birth in the Renaissance. This culturewhich was the characteristic culture of the Western bourgeoisiewas, on the whole, the most brilliant, if by no means the most lasting, cultural system which the human race has so far achieved. The Western bourgeoisie, in its rising, productive, progressive period, did make (and I do not think we should slur over this fact) an enormous contribution to civilisation. A vast, many-sided, rich culture was developed. It developed continuously without serious set‑backs, without any fundamental crisis, without revealing any insurmountable contradictions within itself, up till about a hundred years ago.
What happened then? In two fields, at any rate, in the field of philosophy and in the field of economics, we can see very clearly that there occurred a decisive break. (An analogous process can, I think, be shown to have occurred, though not necessarily at exactly the same time, in other cultural fields, in religion, in painting, and even, though not until our own day, in science.) Indeed, we can choose, though, of course, somewhat arbitrarily, two men whose work marked the close of epochs in philosophy and economics: Hegel is the last of the classical philosophers; Ricardo is the last of the classical economists. Hegel, in his wider field of philosophy, Ricardo in his narrower field of economics, each made an attempt to create a synthesis of all that mankind had hitherto learnt. Ricardo, for example, gave the best explanation which the human mind had up
till then been able to offer of the way in which men were living, the way, that is, they were producing and then exchanging the means of life.
Ricardo is a figure to whom history has done less than justice. It was not so with his contemporaries. You will remember how Marx quotes Lord Brougham as to the effect of Ricardo's speeches on economics when he was elected to the House of Commons. Brougham said that Ricardo was so far ahead of everyone else in his economic thinking that "he appeared to have stepped down on to the floor of the House of Commons from another planet."
Ricardo was not only far ahead of the whole economic thinking of his time, but his theories have remained far ahead of all the capitalist economic thinking which has come after him. You have only to study the whole style and manner of post‑Ricardian economists to find an increasing lack of something: to find a growing sense of frustration. There is, it is true, no lack of talent, of ingenuity, of subtlety. You will find more of these qualities in many of the present‑day capitalist economists than you will find in Ricardo. And yet you will not be able to avoid the feeling that something queer, something questionable, has crept into their thinking.
I am even less qualified to judge of philosophy than of economics, but in this field, too, we are often told that Hegel was the last philosopher who dared to create a system. After him eclecticism, dubiety, inconclusiveness grew greater and
greater. In their respective fields, Hegel and Ricardo were the last capitalist thinkers who spoke with assurance and authority. It certainly looks as if culture reached with them some sort of limit. Something in the nature of a break, of a decisive leap on to a new level, seems to have been necessary if any further advance from that level was to be achieved.
This leap took place. Marx and Engels appeared. At the beginning, they worked quite independently, yet they came to the same conclusions. And each of them came to these conclusions by the same process. Each of them had made a thorough study both of classical German philosophy, culminating in Hegel, and of classical British and French economics, culminating in Ricardo. What they did was to marry these two great cultural streams; and the child of this marriage was dialectical materialism. By this creative union, of which Marx and Engels were the midwives, a way forward was found out of the cul‑de‑sac into which the rest of human thought has wandered.
This advance was achieved, however, only on one condition, and that condition was that human thought became revolutionary. The essence, as Marx says of dialectical materialism, is that it accepts nothing as permanent, that it is critical to the bitter end. It puts capitalism in its place as one of a long line of social systems under which man has lived. It gives capitalism both a beginning and an end.
But it is obvious that a philosophy of this, character was not going to prove very attractive to the majority of bour-
geois thinkers. It is true that this new road offered a way out of the dead end into which human culture was getting; but it offered this way out only at the expense of a head‑on collision with capitalism. And this was far too high a price for the great majority of the bourgeois thinkers to pay. They proved that they were bourgeois first and thinkers only a long time afterwards. Thus, it was inevitable that from that day human culture, which since the Renaissance had been a unity, should break into two streams. The stream of orthodox bourgeois culture has flowed on into the sands of agnosticism, and is now fast disappearing into a more and more reactionary mysticism. The second stream, dialectical materialism, has preserved the integrity and vitality of human thought by stripping to the bone the contradictions of capitalism and openly calling for its overthrow.
It is important that supporters of dialectical materialism should assert their undeniable claim to be the heirs apparent to all that is best in traditional culture. It is important to show that the theories of Marx and Engels did not fall from the sky; that, on the contrary, they are the only possible deduction from the pre-existing body of human thought. It is modern bourgeois culture which has broken the continuity of the great tradition, which has betrayed that tradition. For bourgeois thinkers flinched from the conclusions which were logically inevitable from their own theories; for these conclusions were revolutionary.
This splitting up of the cultural stream into two did not
take place in the fields of philosophy and economics alone, although in these fields the process is most obvious. Literature too, is an integral part of the tradition of human thought, and in this field also it will be found that about the same time, about a hundred years ago, that is, a decided change began to come over the work of representative writers and poets.
Now Marxist critics are accustomed to describe the writers of the past fifty or hundred years with two adjectives, "bourgeois" and "decadent." Both these epithets cause, I am afraid, a great deal of annoyance. We are told that they are meaningless terms of abuse; that it is grossly impertinent to apply political standards to the sacred and delicate field of aesthetics, and so on, and so on.
The American critic, Mr. Henry Hazlitt, has recently been expressing views of this sort. He adopts an attitude of calm superiority. "The greatest danger," he writes, "in short of so‑called Marxist criticism in literature is that it may become infinitely boring. When we are told that Emerson, Poe, Mark Twain, Proust and Thomas Mann were bourgeois, we can only reply that this may be all very true, but that we knew it in advance and that it tells us nothing."
Mr. Hazlitt's strictures remind one of the story of the typical Englishman's reactions to any new fact. The first reaction is to say that it is all nonsense. The second reaction is, "that may be all very clever, but it is contrary to scripture." The third reaction is, "Oh yes, that is quite true, but
I knew it all the time." Mr. Hazlitt has reached the third stage.
It is important for us to define exactly what we do mean when we call a writer bourgeois. For most anti‑Marxist critics take a different line from Mr. Hazlitt. Mr. Hazlitt agrees that it is true that the famous writers of the past decades have been bourgeois, but claims that this fact is quite unimportant. The majority of anti-Marxist critics deny, however, that there is any such thing as a bourgeois writer. Now I think it is important for Marxists to make it clear that when they have defined a writer as being bourgeois, or as being decadent for that matter, they have by no means dismissed him. When we say, for. example, that Proust and Joyce are both bourgeois and decadent, as we certainly do, we are far from denying that they were, and are, writers of genius. What we mean when we say that certain writers are bourgeois is quite simply that they are writers who wrote for and about the bourgeoisie. In most cases they were born into that class. In exceptional cases they were, like D. H. Lawrence, born into the working class, but rapidly left it and assumed the life and associations of the bourgeoisie (or, in Lawrence's case, of what is left of the British aristocracy).
I shall try to show in a minute that this definition, the establishment of this category of bourgeois writers, is not, as Mr. Hazlitt thinks, an empty one. What, however, do we mean when we call recent writers decadent? We are, I
take it, referring to a quality in their work which is rather hard to define briefly, but which anyone who has a grain of literary sensitiveness in him cannot fail to notice. We are pointing, for example, to such things as the enveloping waves of mysticism, the retreat into talk about "blood‑consciousness," and thinking with your thighs, which always tended to mask and botch the genius of D. H. Lawrence. (The parallel between Lawrence's terminology and that of the Nazis has often been pointed out. Lawrence was a typicalindeed, the archtypalmember of the school of "the fascist unconscious," another example of which we shall discuss in detail in a moment.) We are pointing to the narrowness of the range of Proust's field of vision. We are contrasting the unparalleled depth and comprehensiveness of his analysis of one dominant, but extremely small, part of the French population, with his perfect indifference to anything outside the ken of this particular sub‑division of the French bourgeoisie and aristocracy.
What we mean when we say that these writers are decadent is that such work could only be done, for good or ill, in the closing stages of a culture. Such work always has been done at the very end of each period of civilisation. The very word byzantinism, which has been coined to express it, reveals this fact. That is what we mean by the epithet decadent; but when we call them decadent, we certainly do not mean that Proust and Joyce, for example, were not, or are not, great artists. For decadence may have positive qualities
of its own. It produces degrees of analytic intelligence and sensitiveness which are hardly paralleled in other epochs. The Owl of Minerva, as Hegel said, takes its flight in the evening. The sunset colours of a civilisation are sometimes among its most lovely.
He would, however, be a dolt indeed who could not distinguish a difference of kind between the work of Proust, Joyce, and Lawrence, and the work of Racine, Goethe, and Shakespeare, for instance. The modern writers are just as intelligent, just as sensitive, and have, of course, a far wider and richer tradition of culture to build upon than the older. Yet undeniably something has gone queer, has gone strange, in their work. Non‑Marxist criticism is quite impotent to tell us what that something is. It hardly even dares to mention the existence of this strange, questionable character in even the very best examples of modern work. It is only in the light of dialectical materialism that this phenomenon can be explained.
Contemporary writers are a part of existing civilisation; existing civilisation is a bourgeois civilisation; and bourgeois civilisation is in headlong decline. This fully accounts for the peculiar characteristics which we notice in its greatest writers. When we call these writers bourgeois, we are, of course, very far from suggesting that they are conscious propagandists for the capitalists. On the contrary, these writers do not think of capitalism or the bourgeoisie as categories at all. They are too much a part of capitalism for
that. They are so entirely within the bourgeoisie that they cannot even for a second get outside and look back at the system or the class as a whole. They reflect the characteristics of their epoch automatically, unconsciously, and therefore with perfect fidelity. This is what we mean when we say that they are bourgeois artists. We are not using the term bourgeois as a term of abuse, we are using it as an indispensable term of definition. We are setting up the categories by means of which alone the present condition of culture is explicable.
Moreover, it is vitally important that we should do this. Mr. Hazlitt, for example, is quite wrong when he suggests that there is no need for Marxism to make these definitions because everyone already accepts them. On the contrary, nine conservative literary critics out of ten (including Mr. Hazlitt himself on other occasions) deny the very existence of the categories bourgeois and non‑bourgeois as applied to literature. They represent art and literature as an enormous and sacrosanct unity, unrelated to anything else in life, uncontaminated with the dirty, nasty affairs of man, floating somewhere aloft, not perhaps in the air, for that would be too material, but in a kind of beautiful vacuum.
I notice that in America this attitude is being maintained by conservative literary critics with increasing difficulty. In America there exist very lively controversies on literature, culture, and politics, and these controveries are very much livelier and better than anything we have in Great Britain.
Serious inroads have been made into the complacency of the American critics. In Great Britain we have achieved no such progress. Here every respectable literary critic, not excluding some who have the insolence to call themselves Communists, such as Middleton Murry, would rather commit suicide than apply a rational, political, and economic critique to literature.
I should like to attempt to exemplify some of these general conceptions by considering one or two particular examples of present‑day literature. The first example I should like to take is that remarkable poem by Mr. Archibald MacLeish entitled, "Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller's City." I shall spend what may seem a disproportionate amount of space upon this poem, because it is, I think, more satisfactory to analyse in some detail one striking example of a given school of thought than to mention several inadequately.
Now it is obvious that both in this case and in our examples of other schools of contemporary writers, we shall be mainly occupied with adverse criticism. But this fact does not mean that the works under our discussion are bad. On the contrary, it would obviously be a sheer waste of time to talk about Mr. MacLeish's poem, for example, unless its author had had the talent to make a true poem. Unless the thing existed as a poemand that is more than can be said of nine‑tenths of modern versewe would not waste a moment upon it.
It is, as a matter of fact, precisely because Mr. MacLeish is a writer of a high order of ability that it is worth while to point out what he is writing about. From the very outset, our method of criticism must depart from the established methods of bourgeois criticism. Bourgeois criticism is in the main an attempt to establish a hierarchy of works of art, to say that this poem is better than that, but not so good as a third, etc., etc. We are not primarily concerned with this question. Obviously we shall only discuss works that do succeed in expressing adequately what their author's meant to express. But what we are here and for the moment concerned with is the thing expressed. What we want to find out is what Mr. MacLeish is saying. Nor shall we be deterred from this quest by the fact that the author of the poem himself may not be wholly aware of what he has said. He will, we shall find, retreat into the position that his poem did not mean anything in particular, that it was just "art." But we, shall be unable to take Mr. MacLeish's word for this. We, shall have to examine the poem for ourselves, and see whether, perhaps by mistake, it has not got a meaning!
As a matter of fact,' "Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller's City" is chock full of meaning. Mr. MacLeish does himself a gross injustice when he suggests that it is not. Mr. MacLeish has made articulate a particular and very characteristic mood of the present day, and has done so most effectively and fully. Mr. has already given the right name to the thing which Mr. MacLeish expresses; he has
called it "The Fascist Unconscious." When Michael Gold said this in his review of the poem in the New Republic he caused something of a sensation. The allegation was strenuously denied. Let us, however, see for ourselves.
The first of the six sections into which "Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller's City" is divided is entitled, "Landscape as a Nude." This section consists of an eloquent personification of the American continent. The "she" of the poem is America, whom Mr. MacLeish conceives as a mighty female figure, lying prone upon the American continent, a sort of heroic Epstein statue. And very well he conveys the image. Here is a stanza:
"She lies on her left side her flank golden:
Her hair is burned black with the strong sun:
The scent of her hair is of rain in the dust on her shoulders:
She has brown breasts and the mouth of no other country."
Now I would be the last man to object to the expression in poetry or anywhere else of a man's natural love of his own country. We must, and should, all of us, have deep roots in that particular part of the earth upon which we were born. (You remember Lenin's strong expression of his pride in the Great Russian race.) Moreover, nobody could suggest that this section of the poem has anything jingoistic about it. There is no taint of Kipling here. Yet despite this, and despite its considerable beauty, the section, even at a first reading, causes a certain uneasiness. One cannot help feeling that
Mr. MacLeish is somehow being a little busy about being an American.
This feeling is confirmed when one comes to the fourth section of the poem, "Oil Painting of the Artist as the Artist." You will remember that this is an amusing piece of satire on the American aesthete expatriatemuch in the manner of Mr. Eliot. The plump Mr. Pl'f has gone to Pau because "There is too much of your flowing Mississippi: He prefers a tidier stream with a terrace for trippers. . . ." This section seemed to me to provide the key to a certain unsatisfying quality in Mr. MacLeish's idealisations of America. It suddenly made one realise that his mood is, to a certain extent at any rate, merely one of reaction against Henry James: that Mr. MacLeish is himself an inverted Henry James. Naturally a reaction against the absurd tradition that American artists have to fly to Europe because no art could exist in America is entirely justified. But surely at this time of day Americans should have done both with that original flight and with the reaction against it. At any rate, until they have they will not produce very satisfactory poetry expressing a love of country.
These sections of the poem give us a suspicion that there is something wrong with Mr. MacLeish's patriotic verse, however cultivated its expression may be. But it is not until we come to the last section that we realise whither patriotism, even of Mr. MacLeish's esoteric type, must lead to today. The last and sixth section of Mr. MacLeish's poem
is entitled "Background with Revolutionaries." This section is a satirical attempt to show that the Jewish, or immigrant, revolutionaries of New York City, who speak in broken English, or with an accent, can have nothing to do with America or with American culture. It is composed of alternate stanzas in which (somewhat mechanically) the objectionableness, futility, and general "untouchability" of New York revolutionaries is contrasted with the "great open spaces" of America, which are, it seems, all that matters. Here are two typical stanzas:
"Also Comrade Levine who writes of America
Most instructively having in 'Seventy‑four
Crossed to the Hoboken side on the Barclay Street Ferry . . . .”
"Aindt you read in d' books you are all brudders?
D' glassic historic objective broves you are brudders!
You and d' Wops and d' Chinks you are all brudders!
Havend't you got it d' same ideology? Havend’t you?
When it's yesterday in Oregon it's one A M in Maine
And she slides: and the day slides: and it runs: runs over us:
And the bells strike twelve strike twelve strike twelve
In Marblehead in Buffalo in Cheyenne in Cherokee
Yesterday runs on the states like a crow's shadow.
The more one thinks over this section of the poem, the more unbelievably caddish it seems. It is really an astonishing piece of work for Mr. MacLeish to have written. It shows the ungovernable strength of his class dislikes. For I am sure that, except when expressing those dislikes, he would never have dreamt of writing this kind of thing. Mr. MacLeish, no doubt, has a strong, though perhaps unconscious, belief in what are called the standards and traditions of a gentleman in the tradition of the old American stock. Now if the term "a gentleman" means anything at all, it must surely mean precisely the kind of man who would never conceive of making fun of the fact that other people had received a less good education than himself: that they talked the English language with an accent, for example. We are here faced by the fact that the appeal which Mr. MacLeish makes in this section of his poem to the gentlemanly tradition of the old American stock is, in fact, a violation of all that is best in that tradition.
Now let us look at the poem as a whole. The other sections are concerned in describing, often in effective imageries, the heroic conquest of the American continent by plain Americansworkers and peasants, as we should sayand then the filching of the land from these, its real makers, by the great capitalists. There is some effective satire at the expense of Mellon, Morgan, Harriman, Vanderbilt, and the rest:
"You have just beheld the Makers making Ameries:
They screwed her scrawny and gaunt with their seven-year panics:
They bought her back on their mortgages old‑whore-cheap:
They fattened their bonds at her breasts till the thin blood ran from them:
Men have forgotten how full clear and deep
The Yellowstone moved on the gravel and grass grew
When the land lay waiting for her westward people!"
Well, one may ask, what is wrong with this? Nothing is wrong with this. But what we have to do is to put together the two emotions which Mr. MacLeish has expressed in these two different sections of the poem. On the one hand there is this perfectly genuine emotion of revolt against the great bankers, and on the other hand, in the last section of the poem, there is the equally strong revulsion against the actual massesagainst the urban masses in particular. For these masses are largely either Jewish, or ill‑educated, or foreign born. Moreover, they are apt to insist that "Wops" and "Chinks" and all sorts of foreigners are also human beings, with perhaps as good a right to exist as the old American stock.
Now where have these two emotions of revoltof revolt against the bankers and of revolt against anything foreign appeared together before? The answer is that they have
appeared in the rank and file of every fascist movement in the world. These two emotions are precisely, as Michael Gold has said, the unconscious background of fascism.
These emotions are being spontaneously generated by the present social situation in the minds of certain types and certain sections of the population all over the worldjust as they have been generated in the mind of Mr. MacLeish. This is the mental soil out of which fascism grows. The fact that there are many Mr. MacLeishes amongst the middle classes of the world, many men, that is, who feel the necessity for some revolt against the existing situation, but who also feel that it is quite impossible to identify themselves with the only people who can, in fact, undertake that revolt, with the working masses, is the crucial fact which gives fascism its chance.
For, of course, if this mood is the emotional subsoil of fascism, it is far from being the finished flower. The complex and contradictory emotions which Mr. MacLeish makes articulate in this poem are only the raw material. This raw material is seized upon by far more clear sighted, if far less sincere, men than Mr. MacLeish. A fascist movement which at the beginning appears to express both strands of emotion comes into being. The movement appears to be equally anti‑banker and anti‑Jew, anti‑Communist and anti-Red. But then, by an inevitable and now familiar transition, each fascist movement, under the leadership of ambitious
and practical mensuch as Mr. Lawrence Dennis in America, for examplemakes its peace with the great bankers and monopolists. It will not even be necessary for the fascist leaders to suppress altogether the anti‑big banker propaganda. Mr. MacLeish, for example, will be allowed to continue to write his sarcastic comments on the way the House of Morgan has secured the title deeds of the American continent. For the House of Morgan will be quite willing to finance a movement which is expressing effectively in action its hatred of the urban revolutionariesof the only people, that is, who can bring consciousness, intelligence, and direction to the revolt of the American masseseven if the poets and the propagandists of such a movement let off a little steam now and then.
In the section in which Mr. MacLeish is satirising the revolutionaries, he writes:
"For Marx has said to us Workers what do you need?
And Stalin has said to us Starvers what do you need?
You need the Dialectical Materialism!"
It has evidently never occurred to Mr. MacLeish that dialectical materialism is precisely what the American masses do need in order that they should cease to be "starvers." In an earlier part of his poem he idealises the "hunkies," good honest fellows who built the great trans‑continental railroads, and then had them filched from them by the rich:
"But there's nothing good in the world that the rich won't buy it:
Everything sticks to the grease of a gold note
Even a continenteven a new sky!"
Does it not occur to Mr. MacLeish that the workers have had the world filched from them just because they lack an adequate conscious grasp of what is happening? Can he but see that dialectical materialism, which is, precisely, an adequate synthesis of all the facts of the modern situation, is what can set them free? Can he but guess how convenient it is for the Morgans and the rest that there should be a fascist party, encouraged by gentlemen poets, which will pogromise and murder the revolutionary intelligentsia, who are the people who can bring this essential knowledge to the workers? Would it not be well for Mr. MacLeish to reflect on what has been the result in Italy and in Germany of the very mood which he is expressing?
The last line of his poem, however, tells us that "There is too much sun on the lids of my eyes to be listening." It is all too probable that there is. But there is little enough sun on the lids of the eyes of the vast majority of the American people. And they will sooner or later listen to the only knowledge that can make them free.
The controversy which the poem and Michael Gold's review of it excited in the American liberal reviews was revealing. Mr. MacLeish replied, it will be remembered,
(both to Mr. Gold's review and to the comments of Mr. Malcolm Cowley) that really his poem did not mean anything at all; it was just pure art. He denied, for example, that he had expressed any anti‑Semitic sentiments in the poem. This was remarkable. Mr. MacLeish was reduced to the really childish argument that, because the particular word "Jew" does not occur in his poem, which instead gives a satirical imitation of the Yiddish accent, he had made no mention of the Jewish question!
Mr. MacLeish goes on to say that Mr. Gold is evidently afraidafraid of being persecuted. One is tempted to become extremely bitter when men like Mr. MacLeish, who live in the perfect security of being on the side of the seemingly overwhelming force at the disposal of capitalism, accuse us, who are on the other side, of being frightened. I cannot, of course, speak for Mr. Gold, but I speak for myself when I say, "Yes, of course, I am frightened." Anyone who sees the necessity of fighting capitalism and realises what capitalism will do, who sees what capitalism has done in Germany, and who sees the approach of war, would be a lunatic if he were not frightened. It is easy for those who are at the breech end of the capitalist machine guns to accuse those who are at the muzzle end of being frightened.
Finally, there was a delightful postscript to the MacLeish‑Gold controversy. Carl Sandburg, to whom "Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller's City" is dedicated, wrote to the New Republic to report that he had gone round his Jewish
acquaintances showing them the poem, and that he had discovered several Jews who could see nothing anti‑Semitic in it. That seemed to me to dispose once and for all of the horrid libel that all Jews are clever.
When one reflects on the whole emotional position which Mr. MacLeish has expressed in his poem, one sees that its author's predicament is analogous to the predicament of Byron. You remember how Hazlitt (I mean the early nineteenth‑century essayist, not Mr. Henry Hazlitt, whom I have quoted above), summed up that predicament when he said that Byron could not bear a lord who was not a wit, or a wit who was not a lord. In the same way, Mr. MacLeish cannot bear a Harvard man who is not a revolutionary, or a revolutionary who is not a Harvard man. Naturally, it would make the world a much easier place to live in if all the revolutionaries were perfectly educated, had had every advantage, knew how to put the revolutionary case in the most tactful, effective, and neatest way possible. It is, however, in the very nature of things that the working class, which is emerging to overthrow capitalism, emerges without a Harvard education, without the advantages (but without the crippling disadvantages either) which only centuries of secure and leisured living can give: that it emerges rough, and often clumsy and tactless: that we who attempt to be its spokesmen some times express ourselves pedantically and ineffectively.
But when we have expressed all our legitimate bitterness against the point of view of Mr. MacLeish's poem, we should remember, difficult as it may be to believe, that its author is probably blissfully unconscious that he is a fascist. I do not think that Marxists always allow sufficiently for the political illiteracy of their opponents. They some times mistake ignorance for vice. Lenin, when he was asked in April 1917, what was the main duty of the Bolshevik, replied, "Patiently to explain."
It may be worth while to contrast Mr. MacLeish's poem with another modern poem which also deals with the love of country. I would like to do so in order to try to establish a line between poetry which is on the side of the workers, and poetry which is on the side of the capitalists. (We must, of course, unhesitatingly place Mr. MacLeish's poem, in spite, I dare say, of its author's intentions, on the capitalist side of that line). I take a poem by Stephen Spender, to show that there is nothing incompatible between the expression of tender love of one's country and being upon the side of the working class. I may myself be accused of a subtle form of chauvinism in thus favourably contrasting an English poem with an American, but what makes me do so is not chauvinism, but ignorance. I am sure that there are many, and very likely superior, patriotic and yet revolutionary American poems I could have taken had I known them. I would, however, like to read you this poem by Stephen Spender. It is called "The Pylons," by which the poet means
the masts carrying the wires distributing electrical currentmasts which are at present being built all over England:
"The secret of these hills was stone, and cottages
Of that stone made,
And crumbling roads
That turned on sudden hidden villages.
Now over these small hills they have built the concrete
That trails black wire:
Pylons, those pillars
Bare like nude, giant girls that have no secret.
The valley with its gilt and evening look
And the green chestnut
Of customary root
Are mocked dry like the parched bed of a brook.
But far above and far as sight endures
Like whips of anger
With lightning's danger
There runs the quick perspective of the future.
This dwarfs our emerald country by its trek
So tall with prophecy:
Dreaming of cities
Where often clouds shall lean their swan‑like neck."
Well, it is a slight thing by a young man. But it does, I think, show that love of country is not incompatible with
love of the future instead of love of the past: that it is not incompatible with Communism. As a matter of fact, Mr. Spender is not, I understand, a Communist by any means. But his work does, whatever confusions there may be in it, seem to be definitely on our side of that line between the camp of the workers and the camp of the capitalists which I have attempted to draw. He, and the group of young English poets (of which Mr. Auden is perhaps the best known), associated with him, have crossed some essential border line. They have definitely broken the bonds which constrain all literature which remains within the framework of the existing order. They have crossed a Rubicon and come out upon the side of the new world.
I should also like to say a little about another school of bourgeois writers of today. I would call this school, in contrast to the fascist school, the world‑weary school.
Now this school of writers are the heirs, though, to my mind, the degenerate heirs, of a very great tradition. They are the heirs to what has been perhaps the greatest tradition in human culture, the tradition of the tragic view of life. Certainly this stream of human thought and feeling has produced the greatest writers and artists who have hitherto existed. From Shakespeare to Pascal to Dostoievsky, there is hardly a giant of literature who must not be placed in this category. (Though I think Tolstoi, in spite of the almost unmitigated tragedy of his life, cannot be so placed). In the present‑day representatives of this school, however, a sad
decline is apparent. A sense of tragedy has degenerated into a sense of despair; and a sense of despair has been succeeded by a mere sense of depression. The burning insight into the nature of the universe, possessed by the masters of this tradition, has now become mere ingenuity. There are many representatives of this school in Great Britain. In America there is a very considerable artist, Ernest Hemingway, of whom more later, who belongs to the school of despair. (He, however, has escaped one form of its degeneracy).
As a first example of what I am talking about, however, I should like to take that well‑known book, The Modern Temper, by Mr. Joseph Wood Krutch. It is a useful book because it is a work of literary theory and criticism and, therefore, states explicitly, instead of implicitly, the world view of this school. Mr. Krutch voices the main issue which interests us here with very great clarity. He states, in particular, more specifically than anyone else has, yet done the view which lies behind the world‑weary school's criticism of the revolutionary position.
Highly instructive is the passage in which he tells us that the revolutionary school of writers may be all very well in their way, but that, of course, they are simple‑minded, primitive people, who entertain all sorts of Utopian hopes about the prospects of the human race. He ridicules us for believing in such things as the possibility of the human race becoming happy; for holding illusions which no really culti-
vated man of the world could entertain for a moment. Here is the sort of thing I have in mind:
"Communistic Utopianism is based upon the assumption that the only maladjustments from which mankind suffers are social in character and hence it is sustained by the belief that in a perfect state all men would be perfectly happy. Fundamentally materialistic, it refuses to remember that physical well being is no guarantee of felicity and that, as a matter of fact, as soon as the individual finds himself in a perfectly satisfactory physical environment he begins so be aware of those more fundamental maladjustments which subsist, not between man and society, but between the human spirit and the natural universe. And though, for this reason, it must seem to the cultivated European essentially naive, yet in that very naiveté lies its strength as a social philosophy. Thanks to the fact that the perfect communist is not aware of the existence of any problems more subtle than those involved in the production and distribution of wealth, he can throw himself into the business of living with a faith in the value of what he is doing and he can display an energy in practical affairs not to be equalled by any one incapable of a similar belief in their ultimate importance."
It is difficult to remain calm under the air of patronage which Mr. Krutch assumes. The short answer to this particular passage is to say that "Communistic Utopianism" may well do thiswhatever "Communistic Utopianism"
may be. In other words, it may be quite true that if there are Utopians among Communists (and I daresay there are), no doubt they fall into this error. But for Mr. Krutch to suppose that real Communists, real Marxists, people, that is, who have even a general acquaintance with dialectical materialism, could conceivably take up the position he describes, merely reveals his perfect ignorance of the theory and practice of Communism.
For what does Mr. Krutch's paragraph mean? His implication is that we believe that in a perfect state men will be perfectly happy. (I let the word "state" pass, though Mr. Krutch's use of it reveals once more his lack of knowledge of even the first elements of Marxist theory). He alleges, that is to say, that Communists believe that a Utopia of perfect happiness can be created simply and easily by solving the present economic problem.
Now, there is not one word in the works of Marx, Engels, or Lenin, which gives justification for any such view. What the masters of dialectical materialism did conclude was that it was now possible, on the extant technical basis, to create (though not without the greatest difficulty), a society which would be able more or less rapidly to solve the economic problem; to create, that is to say, universal material plenty, and so produce a classless society. But I do not know of any single word in the writings of any authoritative Marxist which suggests that in such a society man would be perfectly happy.
Presumably, indeed, a perfectly happy world would be a perfectly static world, and, as I understand dialectical materialism, that philosophy demonstrates precisely that no such society will ever be created. Dialectical materialism, I take it, teaches that when the present contradictions in human life, namely, the contradictions inherent in our present antagonistic social order, composed of the opposites of luxury and starvation, have been overcome, then indeed a new kind of society will arise. in this new society the dialectic will still be working. The new world order will not be static. It will not, on the other hand, contain those contradictions of class which have characterised human society so far. On the contrary, it will contain new contradictions of its own. What these new contradictions will be neither Marx, Lenin, nor Engels revealed. And they did not do so for the excellent reason that the did not know.
Neither they nor we know anything of the problems, the difficulties, the agonies, perhaps, through which the human race in that future time will be passing. But that does not mean that we fall into the silly error of supposing that humanity will then have reached some static Utopia. All that Marx, Engels, and Lenin did believe was that the struggles, problems, and contradictions of that new Communist society would be different, higher (in the sense of more developed), than are our struggles, contradictions, and problems. *
* "For Marx and Hegel cultural progress consists in transferring problems to higher and more inclusive levels. But there are always problems. History has no other way of answering old questions than by putting new ones, Under Com-
These are the simple facts which reveal the ignorance and irrelevance of the strictures of Mr. Krutch and his school. The truth of the matter is that Mr. Krutch has lost his way. He sees that within the confines of his form of societyof capitalist society, that is to saythere is no way of preventing the destruction of human civilisation. Being a sensitive man, he is haunted and appalled by this fact. He can see that on his premises there is no way out. And, therefore, he supposes there is no way out at all.
All the world‑weary school are very fond, you will notice, of one particular phrase. They talk of the "permanent human prediacment in the universe." But they commit the error of supposing that man's predicament, man's "problem," as Mr. Krutch puts it, will always be the same. Truly man will always be in a predicament; that we can believe. But we certainly cannot believe that it will always be the same predicament. For what does this phrase, "man's predicament in the universe," mean? Presumably what is indicated by this phrase is that group of painful problems which arise from the relationship of man to the universe as a whole.
Now I believe that when people use this concept they are really thinking of one particular and pressing problems of a problem which is, consciously or unconsciously, in the minds of most men; and that is the problem of death. The
munism man ceases to suffer as an
animal and suffers as a human. He therewith moves from the plane of the pitiful
to the plane of the tragic."
(Sidney Hook, Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx.)
knowledge of the certainty of the extinction of our own consciousness is a knowledge which is in the sharpest contradiction to the whole of man's wishes. And now that the older, religious way of dealing with this problem, the way of wishing it away by systematically cultivating a belief in survival after death in heaven, has fallen into disuse, this problem, and the subjective conflict which it raises, is becoming ever more oppressive.
For it has never occurred to most cultivated people of today, since they are usually quite uninterested in science, that if the older way of securing, if not the reality of immortality, yet a belief in that reality, has failed us, a new and real possibility of what almost amounts to immortality, if not for us, then for our descendants, is emerging. I would like to offer an example of what I mean. One of my books contains a sentence in which I imply that the question of human survival is not a fixed and definite one. The sentence contains the words "death might be indefinitely postponed." Now it has interested me to notice that all non‑scientific people who have commented on this sentence have ridiculed it. Several of my friends have told me that it was really too absurd of me to suggest that science would ever be able indefinitely to postpone human death. On the other hand, all the scientists to whom I have spoken on the point take the suggestion entirely seriously. They do not know, of course. Nobody knows whether death can be indefinitely postponed. But responsible modern scientists will say that equally cer-
tainly nobody can be sure that it will not be. There are, it seems, rather serious scientific reasons to suppose that it may be.
Now I have taken up this question of death as a very extreme case. I have instanced it to show that even in this extreme case it is no longer possible to take man and his relation to his environment as a fixed quantity. I have taken it to show that large‑scale, serious changes in that relationship are now taking place, changes which are radically altering man's relationship to the universe. This does not prove, of course, that they are not altering it for the worse rather than for the better, but it does make nonsense of the idea that there is a permanently fixed "predicament" for man vis‑à‑vis the universe, a predicament which has never altered and will never alter.
The criticism of Communism put forward by Mr. Joseph Wood Krutch and the world‑weary school is simply this: Communism is no good because at best it only solves the economic and social problem. But the real problem is not the problem of man and society, but the problem of man and nature. And this problem is static, eternal, and insoluble. The truth is, however, that man's relationship with the inanimate part of the universe is being changed even more rapidly by science than his relationship with his fellow men is being changed by revolution.
Ernest Hemingway takes, in a way, the same point of view as Mr. Krutch. But Hemingway expresses the emotions
which Mr. Krutch merely describes. Moreover, it would be grossly inadequate to call Ernest Hemingway world‑weary. In him the tragic tradition has turned to frenzy rather than to depression. In some of the stories in his last book, called, characteristically, "Winner Take Nothing," Mr. Hemingway has expressed more adequately than ever before his ferocious despair at the condition of the world.
He would, of course, insist that this despair has little or nothing to do with the decay and oncoming break‑up of the present social order; that it expressed nothing which is not permanently true of all ages and civilisations. The facts of history, however, do not allow us to accept this view. Certainly men have felt at all times what Freud has called the burden of civilisation. But it is only in epochs like the present, when an extant form of society has exhausted almost all its possibilities of development, that this burden has become universally intolerable. These are the epochs of the great Nihilist writers. And Mr. Hemingway, at his best, bids fair to rank with them.
You will have read what seems to me the most perfect of all his short stories, the little piece of only a thousand words or so, entitled "A clean, well‑lighted Place." The story consists of a conversation between two waiters in a Spanish café. These are the parting reflections of one of them:
“'Good night,' the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself. 'It is the
light, of course, but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for those hours. What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it, but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada, Our nada thou art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada, our will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.' "
More explicitly political is the conclusion of that other, less perfect, but still extremely effective story, "Gambler, Nun and Radio." Some Mexicans, one of whom is a revolutionary, come to visit Mr. Hemingway in a hospital. The revolutionary is represented as pedantic and absurd. He will not drink because wine "mounts to his head." Religion, he tells Hemingway, is the opium of the people:
"Religion is the opium of the people. He believed that, that dyspeptic little joint‑keeper. Yes, and music is the opium of the people. Old mount‑to‑the‑head hadn't thought of that. And now economics is the opium of the people; along with patriotism, the opium of the people in Italy and
Germany. What about sexual intercourse; was that an opium of the people? Of some of the people. Of some of the best of the people. But drink was a sovereign opium of the people, oh, an excellent opium. Although some prefer the radio, another opium of the people, a cheap one he had just been using. Along with these went gambling, an opium of the people if there ever was one, one of the oldest. Ambition was another, an opium of the people, along with a belief in any new form of government. What you wanted was the minimum of government, always less government. Liberty, what we believed in, now the name of a Macfadden publication. We believed in that although they had not found a new name for it yet. But what was the real one? But what was the real, the actual, opium of the people? He knew it very well. It was gone just a little way around the corner in that well‑lighted part of his mind that was there after two or more drinks in the evening; that he knew was there (it was not really there of course). What was it? Of course; bread was the opium of the people. Would he remember that and would it make sense in the daylight? Bread is the opium of the people."
Hemingway has at length made perfectly clear his real objection to the revolutionary position. Revolution and Communism are no good because they preserve life. They do give people life and bread, and life and bread are no good. The only thing which is not the opium of the peo-
ple, it is clear, is death. This is certainly a novel criticism. But it is a perfectly logical one from the Nihilist point of view.
I have used a good deal of space criticising the opponents of dialectical materialism, so it is perhaps necessary that I should say a word, at any rate, of criticism of its supporters. America is fortunate in that it is developing a revolutionary literature which is worth criticising. America has the beginnings of what promises to be a rich school of revolutionary thought and feeling. Now we are all very good at criticising our opponents, or even our friends. I am thinking of writers in the position of Stephen Spender or Auden, the poets I have already mentioned. These writers have been very severely taken to task for their lack of insight into the social and political theory of the working‑class movement. And no doubt they are by no means perfect masters of Leninism and Marxism. But it would be a mistake, I think, to suppose that on that account they are bad poets. It would be indeed a blunder if we tried to pretend that a man was a bad poet because he was a bad Marxist, and a good poet because he was a good Marxist. If this were true, it, also, would make the world a nice, simple, easy, and tidy place to live in. Unfortunately, however, reality is not of this character. And I would put in a plea for a certain tolerance to writers of merit who are, in the broadest sense of the word, on the right side of the fence. The Russians have found a very good word for these writers. They call them fellow travel-
lers. And I believe that we should do ourselves no harm if we showed an understanding of the problems and the difficulties of our fellow travellers, of people who are definitely not of us, but who are with us. It is not, of course, that such writers should not be criticised. But would it not be well if we criticised them tolerantly, if we emphasised those parts of their writings in which they approached the Marxist position rather than those parts where they leave it most behind?
On the other hand, it does seem to me that there is a field in which we cannot establish too strict a canon of criticism. We cannot too strictly criticise the work of our own writers. Their political thinking, their knowledge of Marxism may be beyond question; but that, surely, should not free them from the sternest attempt to evaluate their work as literature. We are sometimes a little apt to pretend, to wish, to suggest that such writers are necessarily better writers, because they are more politically correct, than are our fellow travellers. Surely we should be on our guard against this natural desire? Surely we should apply our strictest standards to our own writers? Let me take an example.
The American revolutionary movement has just had the signal good fortune to have been endowed with a large-scale work of literary criticism from a fully Marxist writer. I refer to Granville Hicks' The Great Tradition. Let me say at once that the American revolutionary movement should be immensely proud of the fact that at this early stage in its history it has been able to produce a work of such scope
and maturity. Certainly no comparable work of Marxist literary criticism has been done in Great Britain.
The supreme merit of Granville Hicks' book is his irrefutable demonstration that American revolutionary writers are the heirs to the essential tradition of American literature: that they are, to put it paradoxically, political revolutionaries just because they are cultural conservatives! They are revolutionaries because they have grasped the simple but central fact of our epochnamely, that today every thing of value in human culture can only be preserved by revolution. Granville Hicks writes:
"On the one hand lies repudiation of the best of the American literary past. On the other, the fulfilment of all that was dreamed of and worked for in the past, and the beginning of struggle for more than the past could ever have hoped."
One side, at any rate, of the cultural task of the revolutionary is today eminently conservative in the strictest sense of the word. For he has, as I have tried to demonstrate, to conserve human culture from the vandalism of fascism. But this "revolutionary conservatism" cannot possibly be devoted to attempting to prop up the threadbare sham of capitalist democracy. It can only be devoted to providing a new and solid basis for human culture in the form of a working‑class dictatorship.
How strong is Hicks in his account of the development
of the American tradition. He has just the right blend of shrewdness and generosity (as, for example, when he says of Thoreau, "Nothing in American literature is more admirable than Henry Thoreau's devotion to his principles, but the principles are, unfortunately, less significant than the devotion!"). How excellently, also, he sums up the dangers which must confront a writer with a defined political standpoint. He says of the writers of the pre‑war American Socialist Party, of Sinclair and of London in particular: "Their work, unfortunately, shows that official allegiance to a theory and the development of a way of looking at life are two different things."
And yet does Mr. Hicks himself quite escape from some of the dangers which he points out? He ascribes Upton Sinclair's worst faults to "his failure to undergo an intense intellectual discipline." This is both true and illuminating. But on the same page he accuses Sinclair of writing for the middle class. Is this quite fair? Who else could Sinclair write for? Who does Granville Hicks write for? Does he expect the mass of the American workers, excluded as they have been from access to American culture, to appreciate his books? Of course he does not. And does he think that they could afford them, in any case? He, too, writes for the intellectual middle class and for individual worker‑intellectuals. Until the workers have won power and free access to the good things of life there is no one else to write for.
The real trouble with Sinclair is not that he writes for the middle class. It is precisely that he is not equipped with that "intense intellectual discipline" which can alone prevent an author, himself springing from the middle class, and necessarily writing for a section, at any rate, of that class, from becoming "a middle class author"from writing consciously or unconsciously, in the interests of the middle class.
It is in his scathing, but always measured, denunciations that Granville Hicks is at his most effective. I wish I had space to quote in full, though I hope most of my readers know it, his "immense" passage on Cabell, beginning: "This Virginia gentleman and genealogist." In dealing with the young bourgeois writers of the present day, howeverwith Faulkner and with Hemingway, for exampleGranville Hicks seems to me less satisfactory. It was certainly brilliant to call Faulkner "the Sax Rohmer of the sophisticated." But was it an adequate description? What Hicks says, in essence, is that Faulkner does not give a genuine description of the horrors of present‑day life in the South. That, instead of a realistic account, he makes up a lot of artificial horrors in order to give his readers a thrill. Now it cannot be denied that Faulkner's books are far from realistic. But could "Marxist realism" actually convey to the reader the impression of frenzied decay which Faulkner, somehow or other, and in spite of all the melodrama and cheapness, does get across?
For my part I do not think that a Marxist writer could do this particular thing: for he would stand outside and describe the horrors of the South. The strength of Faulkner's books is that they and their author are obviously, in many senses, a part of the thing which they describe. That is why Faulkner writes unrealistically, indirectly and symbolically. Truly his symbols are often melodramatic. (And were not Dostoievsky's for that matter?) But yet Faulkner does often succeed. Perhaps his very unconsciousness of what it is all about helps him to do so. (It is true that Erskine Caldwell has shown how much can be done by the method of direct, simple, and realistic description.)
Then again take Granville Hicks' devastating four pages on Hemingway. No one can possibly deny the accuracy of his charge. No one can pretend that Hicks' sharp intelligence has not pierced through Hemingway's blustering defence for his own terror and impotence before the world. All the same, as Granville Hicks passes under review each of the more prominent writers of our day, and deals with one more devastatingly than another, a certain doubt begins to rise in our minds. He tells us so much about these writers; and yet there seems to be something left out. It is as if Hicks were to give you a long, detailed, and accurate description of two sisters. He would tell you that one was fair and the other was dark, that one had red hair and the other black. He would give you their precise facial measurements; he would inform you, with unimpeachable accuracy, that one
had a nose of so many centimetres, and the other eyebrows of so many. He would give a far more accurate description than is contained in any passport or police record. And yet you might still feel that something was lacking in his description. And when you met the sisters you would discover what it was. You would discover that Hicks had forgotten to tell you that one was beautiful and the other plain.
To drop the analogy, it does seem to me that Hicks falls sometimes into an error which, as I was suggesting above, is a tempting one for Marxist critics. He hardly seems to pay enough attention to the merits of writers as writers. There is a slurring over, for example, of Hemingway's power to create adequate images for his own Nihilism, an attempt to belittle what cannot be belittled. And yet, as Hicks shows in a dozen places in his book, he has a most sensitive and genuine appreciation of literature. It would be a thousand pities if his strong sense of his responsibility, as the foremost Marxist literary critic of America, which he certainly is, should force him to stifle his aesthetic sensibility.
It is indeed of vital importance that Marxist writers and critics should have mastered the very highest achievements of the art and literature which has been developed in the four centuries of the bourgeois dominance of the world. For, as I have attempted to show in the first half of this lecture, that culture is now destroying itself with unparalleled
rapidity. This puts an enormous responsibility upon those artists and writers who have accepted the new world. For these revolutionary writers are, in fact, the sole means by which the great heritage of human culture can be passed on, can be transmitted from the old world to the new. Fascism and the spirit of fascism will more and more rapidly destroy what remains of bourgeois culture. Already in Italy and Germany cultural life is impossible. It will rapidly become so everywhere else in the capitalist world. All those writers who refuse to accept the necessity of the working‑class revolution will find themselves utterly frustrated. Some of the unconscious fascists will, no doubt, become conscious fascists. But they will find that fascism provides no possible basis for their work. Fascism, with its chronic civil war against the workers at home, and its periodic cataclysms of international war, creates a society in which creative work is impossible.
The school of despair will, no doubt, find plenty of justification for their attitude. But once they have uttered, as they are now engaged in doing, their often eloquent laments over the death, as they see it, of human culture, they will have nothing more to say. The writers and artists who are on the side of the working class will of necessity, during the revolutionary period, find that they have to forge of their art a sharp sword for use in the struggle which they cannot avoid. It will be only after the triumph of the workers that their work can become less concerned with pressing and desperate social issues.
These are vast tasks, and in order to accomplish them we shall need the very highest standard of self‑criticism. Only so may revolutionary writers and artists create comprehensive and adequate images with which to make articulate the issues of the bitter struggle in the midst of which we live.
SOURCE: Strachey, John. Literature and Dialectical Materialism. New York: Covici, Friede, 1934. 54 pp.
James Joyce, History, Politics, & Marxism: A Bibliography
Marxism in Philosophy, Science, and Culture Before the New Left:
Essential Historical Surveys
Marx and Marxism Web Guide
Home Page | Site
Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links
CONTACT Ralph Dumain
Uploaded 10 January 2008
Site ©1999-2019 Ralph Dumain