Others of the short pieces in “Our Quarter,” Vol.6, No.1, Fall, 1938 are about the Communist Party: those members who are supporting the ‘New Deal’ and the ‘Popular Front’, and those who are repudiating Stalinism: Jeff Last of the Netherlands’s One Year in the Trenches of Madrid, and Nobel Prize winner, Romain Rolland, “in a sensational defection from the ranks of the Third International’s literary fellow-travellers, for years its most respectable and revered apologist in international cultural circles.” And of the most immediate interest to Partisan Review, “Reflections on a Non-Political Man.”
Communist Comedy: The first piece, “Communist Comedy” is about the State Department’s refusal to grant a visa to John Strachey, who had been a follower of Oswald Mosley, but then became a committed member of the British CP’s Popular Front position. In 1936, he became one of the founders of the Left Book Club. His pamphlet, Why You Should be a Socialist (1938), immediately sold 200,000 copies in Britain. Strachey was on his way to the USA to promote the positions of the CP and Popular Frontism. The writer of this part of the ‘Our Quarter,’ who I think must have been Macdonald again, uses Henri Bergson’s essay on comedy as a point d’appui for his argument, pointing to Bergson’s well-known definition of the comic as “something mechanical [here the State Department] encrusted on the living.” The joke, here, is that while the Communist Party “has been openly renouncing its revolutionary aims, openly supporting [FDR’s] New Deal and sabotaging radical movements against the New Deal,…the Party’s desperate efforts to make itself respectable have had practically no impression on bourgeois politicians, who continue to think of ‘Communists in terms of bombs and whiskers.”
So Strachey, advocate of CP positions, which ‘Our Quarter’ calls “false and dangerous” for their non-revolutionary ideas, is prevented from coming to “propagandize for the Popular Front and the New Deal by the New Deal’s State Department on the grounds that his political philosophy advocates the overthrow by force of… the New Deal.”
The final remark belongs to Bergson, “automatism is only reached in the official who performs his duty like a mere machine, or again in the unconsciousness that marks an administrative regulation with inexorable fatality and setting itself up for a law of nature.”
Reflections on a Non-Political Man: As readers of this blog will know, Thomas Mann had already been the subject of three articles which aimed to clarify his political as well as his literary value by the autumn of 1938. Apologetics begin: “It should hardly be necessary to state that we consider Thomas Mann one of the three or four great figures in modern letters….It is with some trepidation, therefore, that we make the comments that follow. But we feel it is our duty not to remain silent”. I don’t think the writer of this squib can be William Troy, from what we know already of his praise of Mann; the voice here is clear and critical:
“During the past year [Mann] has been a traveling salesman for ‘democracy.’ We must agree with him when he says that the man of letters cannot keep aloof from politics today if he is to fulfill his function. But there is a hypocrisy in Mann’s treatment of politics. He is constantly taking the most extreme and reckless political positions, lending his Olympian, above-the-battle prestige to political doctrines of the most dubious kind. …[In 1918, Mann wrote a book defending German Imperialism] He called the book, Reflections of a Non-Political Man. If Thomas Mann is actually a non-political humanist, then we should like to ask how it happens that his political position at any given moment in history always happens to be that of any ‘liberal’ bourgeois, concerned, above all things, to defend his kind of capitalism.”
‘Our Quarter’ ends with another comic piece, called ‘The Henry Club,” which had been suggested by Eunice Clark — a list of prominent men, all of whose names begin with Henry, who were upstanding members of the liberal bourgeois establishment of the USA. Some are educators, some art critics, etc: for example, “Henry Osborn Taylor, a pillar of the National Institute of Arts and Letters; Henry Dwight Sedgewick of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Henry Sloane Coffin, of the Union Theological Seminary.”
Armed with Partisan Review’s ‘line’ for 1938-39, the reader can then cast her eye over to George Morris’s lithograph, Concretion, perhaps a reply to PR’s criticism of the 1938 Carnegie International Prize winner, Karl Hofer, though happily for the reader, he was one of Hitler’s ‘degenerate’ artists. At the end of ‘Our Quarter,’ we find a poem by Louise Bogan, who provides a satire on the whole idea of institutional art prizes.
Several Voices Out of a Cloud
Come, drunks and drug-takers; come, perverts unnerved! Receive the laurel, given, though late, on merit; to whom and whereever deserved.
Parochial punks, trimmers, nice people, joiners true-blue, Get the hell out of the way of the laurel. It is deathless. And it isn’t for you.
Louise Bogan. 1938
Next week: “The School for Dictators”, Ignazio Silone