The first issue of Volume 6, Fall, 1938 is rich with contributors, including regulars like William Troy and Dwight Macdonald, and important American and European critics and fiction writers of the time — Edmund Wilson, Silone, Kafka. There is also an anthology of poems assembled by that premature- eco-warrior, D.S. Savage, at whose poems we looked earlier, in the summer of 1938. This new volume, new issue also introduces a 5 part series of edtorial essays, “Our Quarter” — with Rahv and Macdonald as chief writers — following the course of the situation in Europe as the war comes closer.
The collection of remarks and positions in “Our Quarter,” begins with an announcement about art and literature, as if to remind us that in the onward march of fascism in Europe we would need artists and writers to fight fascism on the cultural front.
In his discussion of Partisan Review, Terry A. Coomey tells us that in 1938, the journal was spending beyond its means. George Morris, who was an underwriter of PR told the editorial team that he would introduce changes to keep it afloat. This involved getting a cheaper printer, and turning PR into a quarterly rather than a monthly publication. And while making the journal a quarterly would allow for more pages and a greater number of contributions, the political focus, that was now so important as Hitler began melting Europe into a fascist morass, would be the first concern of each issue for the time being.
IFIRA: “Andre Breton, a founder and leader of the Surrealist movement, and Diego Rivera, the painter of the Mexican Revolution, are two artists who have long been active on the Left. Some time ago they rejected the Third International (the Comintern, 1919-1943), politically as well as culturally. They now propose a new federation of artists and writers, Left-wing in tendency and free of all organizational dependence. [In this issue] we print their manifesto calling for the formation of the International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art. An increasing number of writers, artists, and intellectuals are coming to realize that socialism offers the only permanent escape from barbarism that is gaining ground so fast in capitalist society. We believe that these intellectual forces, hitherto scattered and isolated, should now draw together into some sort of organization for free discussion and for defense against their common enemies. We are, therefore, in complete sympathy with the general aim of the IFIRA, and we are ready to take part in the formation of an American section of the Federation. This, we think, should incorporate the international aims of the IFIRA in a program otherwise strictly adapted to American conditions. We invite all those interested in forming such a group in the United States to communicate with the editors of Partisan Review.”
Munich and the Intellectuals: The second topic in the editorial is the Munich Pact, and the role of intellectuals in the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The Munich Pact was, as you may know, the agreement among Germany, Britain, France and Italy that they would allow Hitler to annex portions of Czechoslavkia, if he would agree to stop using his military. The term applied to this agreement was ‘appeasement.’ The Editors take a hard line on this approach, and they are angered enough by the behaviour of American writers and critics to produce a sardonic theory of the intellectual as a type: while Left intellectuals have analysed the reasons for the failures of the Great War, now that the Czech crisis has emerged, “they,who only a few years ago pictured themseves as the bitterest enemies of war, are now among its chief evangels. It would almost seem that the peculiar function of intellectuals is to idealise imperialist wars when they come and debunk them after they are over. This procedure is safe and respectable, It permits you to defend the established order when it needs defence most and to play the revolutionary when it is too late to make revolutions.”
The second point in this argument is that both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat know what they are fighting for, and know what makes them irreconcilable enemies. “The intellectuals, reflecting as they do material interests only at second hand, vibrate nervously between the principal antagonists. Unable to make up their minds, they persuade themselves that this very inability is proof of their objectivity.”
As a result the Left intellectuals are poised to support the imperialists at the same time that they support the war against fascism. Then follows a list of those who supported revolution back in 1932, and who now “are supporting Roosevelt and the Democratic Party quite as ardently as they are preaching a holy imperialist against fascism.”
The final point is also mordant: So now, after the Pact has been made, Leftists see the work of Chamberlain as that of ‘treachery’ and ‘betrayal.’ They attribute to Chamberlain betrayals of the communist movement and of democracy. “Chamberlain acted in the interests of his class, as any other bourgeois politician would do. Chamberlain is an obvious enemy, not a traitor.”
“The Czech crisis will have accomplished something for us if it shatters the gospel of reformism and compels the labour movement to return to a policy of class struggle. The Comintern in particular has suffered a defeat umatched in the long history of its disasters. It is left now without a program, its ultimate dissolution prefigured in the frantic improvisations and desperate guerilla shifts to which it has been reduced. While the crumbling of the Comintern represents the frustration of proletarian hopes, still it removes one of the causes of this frustration. In the intellectual sphere it promises to put an end to the People’s Front regime of ambiguity and in politics and literature alike. When the giant squid ceases to churn and roil the waters of controversy, it will no longer be so difficult to distinguish friends from enemies. Once the interests of the mind are no longer confused with the interests of Soviet Bureaucrats, it may again be possible to define political differences without mystification and to revive the original meaning of the socialist doctrine.” So Partisan Review made its Revolutionary Position Clear to Readers.
Next Week: More of “Our Quarter” — Thomas Mann