This Quarter: The War of the Neutrals” Partisan Review Editors. Vol 6. No. 5. Fall, 1939. Part III

Part III:

“The shift of Stalin to the side of Germany was temporarily embarrassing to the liberals who had so long accepted his regime as a mainstay of the ‘democratic front’. But already they are recovering from their first pained surprise and boldly denouncing “Red Totalitarianism” and “Communist Imperialism.” Someone who first began to read the liberal weeklies a month ago would never suspect there was a time when these journals were, to say the least, on intimate terms with Stalinism. For the pact has really simplified the whole pre-war liberal position. For some time now the liberals have been made uncomfortable by the increasingly plain indications of the totalitarian nature of the Stalinist dictatorship. Neither the Czar in the last war nor Stalin in this one could be called ideal bed companions for the defenders of democracy. The liberals, of course, put up with them as long as they seemed to be necessary for the great crusade. But there is a remarkable similarity in the editorial reactions to the defection of the Soviet Union from the democratic front this time and the liberal weeklies’ editorials on the overthrow of Czarism in 1917. Now at last, is the general idea, the battle line is sharply drawn between the forces of freedom and tyranny. No longer must they labor to explain away or suppress the crimes and corruptions emanating from the Kremlin.

More clearly than ever do they see this war as essentially an ideological conflict, a clash of ideas translated into military terms. The life-principle  (democracy) used in mortal — or at any rate, soon-to-be-mortal — combat with the death-principle (fascism) between the Maginot Line and the Westwall, and the rhetoric of freedom, slightly moth-eaten by now, is enlisted on behalf of the Allied arms.

The first world war opened an era in which imperialism’s struggles for power are presented, by both sides, as Armageddons fought out to decide eternal principles.This is a refinement in the art of war peculiar to the twilight of capitalism. In the formative centuries of European capitalism, wars were publicly recognised as instruments of commercial and territorial aggrandisement. No one thought it necessary to amalgamate cultural values and military objectives. It was typical that Frederick the Great entertained Voltaire and immersed his court in the superior French culture at the same time as he was prosecuting war against France. These wars were, of course, little more than duels between professional armies, with the normal processes of life going on behind the battle-lines.

War in our time, however, is totalitarian, requiring the coordination into the military machine of the whole civil life of the nation. Further more, war today being so vastly more destructive in its effects on life and property than past wars, and also being so increasingly inconclusive and futile even in terms of power politics — what did the last war settle? — it is all the more essential to create powerful ideological sanctions for the slaughter. The basic sanction of this sort is the myth of national unity,  the patriotic love of fatherland which is supposed to rise above material and individual interests, uniting all classes in defense of a common cultural ideal. This nationalist sanction reached its full development in the last half of the last century. To it our own century has added another, one which is especially potent in liberal and intellectual circles. This is a sort of ‘international patriotism’, so to speak — the idea that the world is divided between forces of “democracy” and “autocracy” (1914- 1918), or, this time, “freedom” and “fascism.”

The old-fashioned nationalist arguments in favour of our participation in the war are not particularly dangerous in the liberal-labor circles. It is the internationalist doctrine which is really seductive. We are faced, its advocates assert with a concrete threat to the free institutions of Western civilisation, and we cannot remain indifferent to the possible victory of fascist Germany. Many of them admit the last war was a doctrinal fraud, but this war, they say, is “different,” since fascism is incomparably more threatening than Kaiserism ever was. Some will even admit that the Allied cause is tainted with imperialism, but, as Freda Kirchway of the Nation recently put it: “The qualified blessings of old-fashioned imperialism  must be preserved as a bulwark against the spread of fascist domination.” Fascism  is the brute fact, and all theories must be adapted — read ‘perverted’ — towards the great end of its defeat.

The general idea is that the Kaiser made war for the simple aims of what Miss Kirchway with nostalgia calls “old fashioned imperialism”: to get colonies, to break England’s mastery of the seas, to open up new markets; while Hitlerism has all these aims plus another of a quite different and more sinister category: to extend the fascist political system throughout the world. It is true that there are still important differences between political life in France and in Germany, but this is not because France has not yet been conquered by Germany, but because French capitalism has not yet reached the crisis stage of its German prototype.  As we pointed out in our editorial last spring, fascism is produced by the internal development of monopoly capitalism, not by any force of arms from outside. In the same way, the foreign policies of the fascist nations are determined, as are those of the”democracies,” by the needs of their internal economies, which are still based on capitalist property relations. The differences between this war and the last are mostly to be found in new diplomatic  forms and alliances which merely play over the surface of events and can be understood only as reflections of the basic imperialist antagonisms among the great powers of Europe. If  fascism turned to aggression as a matter of principle, spreading the true faith with fire and sword in Islamic fashion, one would expect to find Italy and Germany fighting together in this war. Actually, of course, the economic and geographical differences between the two nations have proved to be decisive, and Italy is not only neutral but may very well repeat her performance of the last war and join the Allies.

Last spring we noted that no one looked forward with any real enthusiasm or even confidence to the outcome of the second world war. Now that the war has come, this is still true. The embattled “democracies” have not ventured to define their war aim any more specifically than, “Hitler Must Go!” (and what must Come?) On both sides the morale of the population is low.

For this is the tragedy’s second performance. We have seen it all before! This is where we came in! And it is impossible to muster the same emotions of horror and surprise which the first showing exacted from us.  In the very novelty of the thing, in the feeling, moreover, than an event so unprecedented must belong to the order of natural calamities, the 1914 generation found some little comfort. They had discovered as Paul Valery said, that “the most beautiful and ancient things, the most formidable and best-ordered, are perishable by accident.” But even the attitude of discovery, the shocked surprise of the old-world humanist in things undreamt of in his philosophy, is denied to us today. And it is a fact that the newspapers, the cartoons, and even those shrines of moral indignation, the liberal journals have so far shown  a curious restraint. It is not the restraint of scientific detachment, however, nor does it arise from a settled sense of rectitude; it is the low-toned voice of a guilty conscience. For most people know that war is not a cosmic accident, nor the result of cruel impulses rooted in human nature. On the contrary they know that it belongs among those phenomena which , properly understood, are subject to human control.

This control, however, cannot be exercised by the ruling classes in the great imperialist democracies, for it is the economic system which serves their interests which must also resort to these periodic military bloodlettings in order to resolve economic conflicts otherwise insoluble. Within the perspective of capitalism, the best that can happen if the Allies win the war is a new Versailles, followed by the same round of political convulsions as ended up in the triumph of fascism. For it seems impossible that the war will not bring on immeasurably greater economic crises than any we have yet known, and that the mass desperation which these will provoke can be curbed by anything short of the abandonment of all democratic forms.

Many liberals, of course, are aware of the precariousness of the pro-war position. But they cling to it because they profess to see no alternative to entrusting the anti-fascist cause to the armies of imperialism. This is not surprising, since they reject the Marxist analysis of war and fascism as products of the capitalist system itself. But in their recoil from the revolutionary socialist program, they are forced back, step by step, to the most naked apologetics for imperialism. As the war has drawn nearer this country, the space between the revolutionary and the imperialist positions has steadily shrunk until it will soon not be big enough for even a New Republic editor to balance himself upon.

It is notable that the pro-war liberals can still support one cause with real enthusiasm: the revolutionary mission of the German people to overthrow Hitlerism. But even here they are involved in a hopeless contradiction. For an Anglo-French invasion is bound to arouse German patriotism, rallying all classes behind Hitler in a war of “National defense.” Thus French and British nationalism cancel out German nationalism in favour of the imperialist interests dominating both camps.  In fact, an imperialist war can be waged only so long as national unity is maintained on both sides of the firing line. The international solidarity of the workers, with the masses in each nation fighting not against their brothers across the border but against their own capitalist government is the only force that can either bring into being real democracy or make war and fascism unnecessary. This is the alternative which our liberals find too Utopian or too bloodthirsty.

NEXT WEEK: poems by Louise Bogan, Rexroth, and others….

This Quarter: The War of the Neutrals” Partisan Review Editors. Fall, Vol 6. No. 5. Fall, 1939. Part II

Part II:  Now the editorial turns more fully to the state of the US Communist Party after the Stalin-Hitler Pact has been agreed: full text here

” When the shattering news of the Pact was announced, one of the American comrades is said to have remarked triumphantly to a bourgeois friend, “I guess this will prove to you that we don’t have any pipeline to Moscow!” But even this modest gain cannot be extracted by the Party from the wreckage caused by the Pact. It is probably true that  the American Party hierarchy were not informed in any detail as to just what was going to happen — and when.  By judging from a significant change in Party propaganda in the months immediately preceding the Pact, the chiefs at least knew something was in the air. In the daily ritual anathemas of the Daily Worker, Hitler and Mussolini began to yield their places of honour to Chamberlain and Daladier. In any well-ordered bourgeois household like the Third International, the butler may not know exactly where  — or how far — the master is going, but he knows enough to pack the bags and call a cab.

For all their premonitions, however, the Party chiefs seem to have been unprepared for the abruptness with which Stalin executed his about-face. For weeks the ideological bedlam was something extraordinary even for the Communist Party. In a single interview  given out by Browder there might be counted from three to five mutually exclusive “explanations.” For a while, the Party stood firm on two major political lines in sheer conflict with each other. The stirring peals of anti-fascist unity of all men of good will continue to boom out, the Pact being presented as the bombshell that shattered the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis and the death-blow to Hitlerism, and the newborn war being supported with the same old ardor.  At the same time, a new note, reminiscent of the “Third Period” days of ultra-revolutionism, began to be heard: this is an imperialist war…the Munichmen are the tools of finance capital…the Soviet Union is well out of the whole bloody mess.

Even in the Communist Party, such a state of confusion could not safely be allowed to last very long. To the surprise of many observers, the Party bureaucracy had chosen to stick by Moscow — and Hitler — rather than break away and continue to function as the extreme left wing of the New Deal war machine. This choice is of the utmost significance in estimating the nature of the Party and its relation to the American scene. If the Party had cut loose from the Comintern in favour of the New Deal, it would have meant that its social base — both as to jobs for its bureaucrats and the real inner life of the Party –had shifted to indigenous reformation of the New Deal and American Labor Party variety. But, although such a course would have enabled the Party to continue its rapid growth of recent years and its friendly relations with the New Deal, this course was not taken. Instead, the Party has clung to Moscow, and is now denouncing the war and calling for peace at any price. It has moulted almost its entire brilliant plumage of fellow-travellers and “innocent” organisations,  has sacrificed much of its influence over the labor movement, and has not only lost its favorite position with the government in Washington but has at one stroke become  a prominent object of governmental persecution.

That in spite of all this, the Party bureaucracy found itself unable to break with Moscow shows how thoroughly Stalinized the Party apparatus has become. Indeed, it is misleading to speak of Browder and the rest having made a “choice”.

th  Earl Browder, Leader of the US Communist Party.

For all their long cohabitation with native American reformism, they remained the loyal agents of the Kremlin in American politics. It is also remarkable that the rank and file of the Party seems to have stood firm in these trying weeks. There were defections, but apparently not on a mass scale. And a recent Party rally was able to fill the twenty thousand seats of Madison Square Garden with a reasonable enthusiastic, all things considered, crowd of comrades. The disciplined, monolithic character of the Party organisation shows up most dramatically.

There is really something terrifying about this mindless, passive acceptance of directives, however irrational, from above, this abdication on the part of tens of thousands or more or less sincere radicals of all critical judgment. One feels that if the Party were ordered — by the proper authorities, of course, to march over a cliff en masse, it would obey. And this, metaphorically, its just what the American Party has been ordered to do. Even in the best of periods, the Party has a very large turnover of members, some say as much as thirty or forty per cent each year. Even if the ranks hold fast on this issue now, it seems likely that the Party will waste away rapidly as old members drop and no new people come in to replace them.  For the present Party line, acceptable though it may be to disciplined members, has practically no attraction for those outside the Party.

The present C.P. line on war is a weird mixture of pseudo-isolationism and pseudo-revolutionism. We say ‘pseudo’ because it all boils down to a tactic directed toward no more elevated end than the protection of the mutual interests of Moscow and Berlin. The Party’s isolationism can be dismissed in a few words. It has nothing in common with the indigenous midwestern variety, which is naive and provincial but is at least  honestly concentrated on keeping this country out of a European war. The Party, too, now advises the American masses to keep out of the imperialist blood-bath, which in itself is excellent advice. But what the Party, as Moscow’s agent in this country, is really interested in is not peace or isolationism but the victory of Hitler-Stalin over the Allies, just as last winter, when it was shrieking for a democratic holy war against Hitler, it was really concerned not  with any such high-flown business at all but quite simply with the implementation of the Kremlin’s ultimately successful attempt to force Hitler into an alliance. C.P. ‘isolationism’ has nothing to do with the interests of the American masses, and will be chucked overboard tomorrow when and if the Kremlin’s foreign policy takes a new turn.

The ‘revolutionary’ line on the way is smokescreen to obscure two awkward realities: (1) the Moscow-Berlin alliance; and (2) the Red Army’s division of Poland with the Reichswehr, and the more recent imperialist diplomatic drive against the Baltic States. The general idea is that the Soviet Union is a socialist state and that, in the interests of the world revolution, anything goes.

The comrades explain away the alliance with Hitler as a smart trick: Stalin doesn’t ‘really’ trust Hitler and is merely ‘using’ him for the time being, to betray him later on. Thus the Soviet Union is not committed to the fascist side. But this is nothing more than normal, everyday imperialist power politics. No one ‘really’ trusts any one else, and everyone ‘uses’ their allies as much as he can, and betrays them whenever it is in his interest to do so. Stalin made a pact with Hitler, and if the Allies seem to be winning later on, Stalin will probably betray Hitler and return to the democratic camp.  Mussolini also made a pact with Hitler and he, too, if the Allies seem to be winning, may be counted on to turn traitor to the Axis as being as ardent a democrat as — Daladier. In that case, according to the Party line, Il Duce will have also struck a mighty blow for world socialism.

As for the Red Army’s recent exploits, these are also hailed as mighty strokes for socialism. Nothing is more ludicrous than the attempts of the Stalinists to picture these ‘provincial conquests’ in Trotsky’s phrase, as though they represent the spreading of the October revolution to the rest of the world. Even as imperialist burglaries, they are not very impressive. The Polish ‘campaign’ of the Red Army, in which the chief excitement was provided by the tanks getting stuck in the mud or running out of gas, was the sort of hollow victory over a prostrate and inferior foe that the Fascist legions won Ethiopia. And like the Ethiopian campaign, its chief utility was for internal consumption to soothe the grumbling masses and to inflate a little the collapsed morale of the Red Army.

As for world revolution, it is noticeable that the Third International, in its current anti-war phase, has not dared raise anywhere the classic Leninist slogan, the only possible basis for a revolutionary opposition to war: Turn the imperialist war into civil war! The Kremlin is no more anxious for world revolution than is Downing Street or the White House.

But Trotsky propounds the final and unanswerable question: “If the Kremlin wants to foment world revolution, how could it sacrifice its influence over the international working class for the sake of occupying some border territories?” “Eleven million more people enjoy socialism!” exults the New Masses.  But what if the hundreds of millions of French and English and Indian and Chinese and American and German and Italian and other workers throughout the world whose faith in socialism has received this ultimate betrayal by the Kremlin gang and its agents throughout the world? The exposure of Stalinism as the implacable enemy of the international working class had to come sooner or later, and it will be, in the long run a healthy and progressive development.  But the immediate effects are shattering and demoralising. The labor and socialist movement the world over has hardly been a century in such a state of collapse as today. For this tragic situation the Kremlin and its dupes and agents — the Browders and Pollitts and Thorezes, the Lamonts and Stracheys and Cowleys and Lerners and Hickses and Shumanns and Brouns — must bear full responsibility. Some of these have already broken with Moscow, though for the most part in a hypocritical and disingenuous way, and more will do so in the future, Those who keep silent or who continue to support the policies of the Third International must from now on be called bluntly what they are: agents of the Kremlin, and for the present, at least, of Hitler.

Next week: Part III



“This Quarter: The War of the Neutrals” Partisan Review Editors. Fall, Vol 6. No. 5. Fall, 1939.

PART I of “This Quarter.”

The quarterly report from the editors of Partisan Review  carries on from the sense of not-yet-war doldrums of the spring and summer of 1939. Remember that the USA is on the other side of the ocean, and PR’s Editorial pages are rather more influenced by the politics of Fascism and Stalinism than by domestic policies.

The piece opens with the oxymoron of a war between  neutrals — engaged but not quite: “The War abroad the moment of writing, is like a movie that has abruptly been stuck  in immobility by the jamming of the projection apparatus. PR speaks from the. grounds of cultural politics, and the image of movie stasis — the freeze-frame — features not a vivid moment of carnage, but of something close to nothing.

“The film started off briskly and portentously enough, with the ratification of the Stalin-Hitler Pact by the Soviet Congress, and the first German guns roaring into Poland a few hours later; the ultimatums of England and France to Hitler, followed by formal declarations of war; the swift, brutal blitzkrieg in Poland; the massing of French troops in the Maginot Line; the disappearance of the British High Fleet into the North Sea on war duty; the torpedoing of the Athenia; the nightly blackouts in Paris and London. It seemed that the final cataclysm, long expected, was at last here. But once the Reichswehr and the Red Army had divided Poland amicably between them, the film jammed.”

blitzkreig poland Blitzkrieg into Poland

With the forces organised and lined up for action, without much happening, the real battle appears to be that of the Axis for the support of the Neutral Nations. [the War neutrals in Europe were Andorra, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (with Liechtenstein), and the Vatican].  Accordingly, the “This Quarter” analysis can only focus on the two great states: the USSR and the USA.  It is clear that the USA will enter the war if/when the Allies needs its help. A win by Germany will be a disaster for US capitalism.  But it is also the case that the USA and the Allies are competitors for world power and for markets. And here comes the sting for the Allies:

“The more the Allies are exhausted by the war, the better for the interests of American capitalism. The aim of our diplomacy, therefore is to wait until the last possible moment, but not to delay so long  that the Allies are defeated before American aid can reach them”. And the punchline runs like this:

“NO, the United States is an imperialist nation, the mightiest of them all, it also has a huge economic stake in the struggle, and it will intervene for one purpose only: to protect its own imperialist interests.”

stalin & pipe Stalin’s “Benevolent Pipe”

The Second ‘Neutral’ is the USSR… “A few weeks ago, the Comintern was agitating for a world crusade against Hitler… Stalin has been transformed from an international philanthropist, whose pipe was an index of his philosophical benevolence, into a Metternichean power politician, his pipe-puffing now signifying preternatural guile.”

stalin's preternatural guile pipe. Stalin’s Preternatural Guile Pipe.

While some would say that Stalin’s turn to Fascist Imperialism was an ‘inevitable’ transmutation of Leninism, the authors of this Editorial think nothing of the kind.

“NO, on the contrary, we believe that the Soviet government has been obliged to go in for power politics because it long ago abandoned the Leninist conception that the defense of the Soviet Union was inseparably bound to the liberation of the masses in other countries.  The degeneration of the 1917 Revolution is not to be understood in terms of the free, unhampered working out of Bolshevik theory to ‘its logical conclusion.’ The principal factors in the rise of Stalinism, seem to us to have been the impact of such largely uncontrollable phenomena as the devastation and demoralisation caused by the protracted armed intervention of the Allies, the economic and cultural backwardness of Russia, and the failure of the revolution to establish itself in any other country.”

“The fear of the Soviet masses and the international proletariat is the key to Stalin’s foreign policy. Stalin, like Chamberlain, has wanted above to all, to avoid war at any cost. And as is now being demonstrated, it was possible to make common cause with Hitler without provoking any military intervention from the Allies.”

Germany and France realised that war was going to happen; and Hitler had to be destroyed. and so on Augst 31, 1939 The Soviet Congress unanimously ratifies the Ribbentrop- Molotov pact.

Next week: Part II of “This Quarter.”



Partisan Review, Vol. 6, No.3, Fall 1939: Clark Mills, “Pastoral for Poland”.

The German invasion of Poland on September 1,1939  was the opening of the Second World War. The articles in the Autumn issue of PR are marked throughout by the sense of its inevitability permeating Europe and the world at large that summer. I will return next week with the “This Quarter” report from the Editors of the journal, but am starting with the first poem of the issue, a “Pastoral for Poland” by Clark Mills.

Now have the cries of bombed and drowned
a gentle, elegiac sound;
rumour of grief and news of pain
drench the drunk mind like autumn rain.
And now the innocent and wise
crouch from the menace of blue skies
till they lie broken, or in flight
towards the ignorant shield of night.
The burning forest of the nations
wheels under the constellations;
the iron birds roar the bomb-routes; deep
in the explosions children sleep.
Together in the cold of day
the placid, great-limbed beasts of prey,
strong at the twilight hour, and feeding,
rend the sweet flash before them bleeding,
and formless forms in slippers and cowl
watch with the still, round eyes of the owl,
soar from the tree of faith to bless
the perfect act of ruthlessness,
and crickets ring the leafing fire
chirping with terror and desire,
and the rest, under the shadowed hill,
rustle and scurry and are still.
–In the exhausted hour of peace
whom shall we honour among these?
The martyrs bleeding by the wall,
the humble, who cry out and fall,
and these are all, and these are all..

So, who was Clark Mills? Its hard to find an image of him on the internet — here is the best I found — Clark Mills –and there hasn’t been much written about him to my knowledge, but if you know different, please let me know.clark-mills.jpg

Born Clark Mills McBurney in 1913, he became friends with Tennessee Williams, when Williams, then Tom, and a group of fairly like-minded young writers became a group hanging around The Old Courthouse near Washington University in St. Louis, and much of what I learned about him comes from books that are about Tennessee Williams. Clark Mills was pointed out to Williams as that student who writes “crazy modern verse nobody understands but God and himself!” Tom, who had just had his own verse published in four literary magazines, was instantly attracted. Mills would become a prime influence for his next few years, introducing him to the poetry of Rilke, Rimbaud, and Hart Crane, who became Williams’ idol.

This poem is littered with Audenesque phrases and it sounds Blakean as well. There is nothing particularly innovative about it, but it figures as a type for an anti-war poem written by a 26-year-old poet who is a Leftist without being a Stalinist, and so capable of judging the ‘placid beasts of prey’ who devour the ‘martyrs’ and the ‘humble’ — beasts of prey who include fascists and liberals alike.


next week “This Quarter” Editors, Partisan Review