Mike Gold editor of The New Masses

There is something wrong with Vol. 4, issue 4, March 1938. A kind of fatigue or sense of disorder pervades it: the Bishop story is wonderful, but Phillips on ‘Founding Fathers’ is laboured, DuPee on Malraux is predictable within the framework of Anti-Stalinist critique, and George L.K. Morris’s set of letters are looney.  I am looking forward to the next issue when this issue’s March Madness will have subsided. But before leaving, it is instructive and amusing to look at Herbert Solow’s contribution to the RIPOSTES endpapers of  the journal, “Minutiae of Left-wing Literary History”, which provides a survey of those who, in the course of the Bolshevik Revolution, Moscow Trials, the People’s Front, and the Spanish Civil war were first admired and then repudiated  as “Fascist Agents,” by the Stalinists.  Satire and Reportage at once, Solow’s list is compendious and breathless.

Herbert Solow walker evans
Herb Solow and John MacDonald (Walker Evans photo)
The first part of the “Minutiae”  consists of statistics divided according to ‘type’ of writer The New Masses considered the writer to belong to:

  1. Old Bolshevik: “Whoso applauds what the CP does, he is an old Bolshevik, or at least an honest fellow whose innate worth the Bolsheviks always sensed.”
  2. The Grumbler: “a pre-destined enemy of mankind, long since branded an “obstacle to human progress.”

When The New Masses was first published, in 1926, it published radical and communist writers and artists, and was happily though not exclusively under the wider influence of the Russian Revolution and its avant-garde, as it also promoted literature of working class life in the USA. [ The first two covers below show the kind of art it encouraged.]  But as the situation in the Soviet Union and in the CPUSA changed, by the 1930s, it became more closely linked to the poetics of the CPUSA, and to the CP’s interest in publishing ‘proletarian literature.’ It also became highly critical of those whose literary production was “modernist’ and whose politics was “Trotskyist.” i.e., the politico-literary habitus of Partisan Review.

First Issue — May 1926– 

New MASSES 1928
1928 — Russian Avant-Garde Still in Favour

Stalin’s Moscow Trials. Trouble Ahead.
Solow, who later taught at the New School for Social Research, begins his riposte in a sociologist’s style: with statistics, percentages, and the like, in which the style becomes satirical as soon as the evidence is presented. When The New Masses began in 1926 and 1927 it published 268 signed contributions by 150 writers.  11% of them contributed 19%  of the articles and 17 of them are now (in 1938) considered to be ‘enemies of the people’ by the CPUSA.  One of the founders of the journal, Max Eastman, who wrote many articles was also by 1938 an ” enemy of mankind.” I won’t give all the ‘data’ here, but you can read it at the archive: http://hgar-srv3.bu.edu/collections/partisan-review/search/detail?id=283909 . Solow’s driest point is that the more articles an author contributed,  the higher the chances of becoming “an enemy of mankind.”  Stalin’s campaign against Trotsky was the great divider of these writers who had, ten years before, been comrades.  But the issue of how best to produce revolutionary literature and art also split off between the ‘proletarians’ and the ‘avant-gardists’ of the left.

But it isn’t just the Old Bolsheviks and New Stalinists who are found on and then off  The New Masses’s version of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum: “In 1928 [Mike] Gold gave an extended official view: ‘there is no humanity in Hemingway,’ he declared. He is as ‘heartless as a tabloid,’ but supporting the Spanish People’s Front has brought him back into the fold. Solow now moves to his side of the struggle, and the writers for Partisan Review: 

“In 1932,  Edwin Seaver found Edmund Wilson, now order of E.M. (Enemies of Mankind) to be a ‘new and vital tendency. . . .In March, 1934, the Editors scolded Prof. Meyer Schapiro  and John Chamberlain for not realising how deeply and rightly the workers hated Fiorello LaGuardia; today the Editors support LaGuardia — while Schapiro and Chamberlain [AJ: Both of whom joined the Dewey Defence of Trotsky Committee]  are confirmed members of the Order on Enemies of Humanity.”

And so it goes.

Like many of his fellow NY intellectuals,  Herbert Solow went to Columbia University, graduating in 1934.When he died in 1964, at the age of 61, he  was well past his years as a supporter of Trotsky, and as a writer for a number of left-wing journals.  He later worked at the New School for Social Research, and he was an advocate for European Jewish intellectuals after the war.  Again, like others, his anti-Stalinism became anti-Communism, and from 1943 until his death he worked as an Editor at Fortune Magazine. 

Its well-known, at least among the left, that the Minutiae of Left Wing political and literary is, as if always, ready for another go-round. This was true of the 19th century socialists who dragged old Chartists into the new socialist struggles and beyond.  Living as I did in the UK in the mid-1970s, I knew less of the American New Left than I did of the Trotskyist arguments before and during WWII.  I remember having a set-to in 1976 with a guy from the IMG about  the Stalin-Hitler pact late one night in a cold kitchen with a two-bar space heater and a large  mug of tea and a whole load of cigarettes…I wouldn’t have missed it for anything — everything said was trembling with meaning, and those cigarettes…well, they were delicious!

NEXT:  Good issue ahead, with essays by Rahv, Hook, Trilling, and McCarthy, Morris on art and theatre.