The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s

By Alan M. Wald | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
The Cul-de-sac of Social Democracy

What would happen if men remained faithful to the ideals of their youth?

-- Pietro Spina in Ignazio Silone Bread and Wine1


PORTRAIT: IRVING HOWE

For the New York intellectuals, the consequences of Cold War anticommunism extend far beyond the 1950s. The transformation in ideology and political consciousness consolidated in the early 1950s definitively and perhaps permanently shifted the axis of anti- Stalinism from its revolutionary anticapitalist premise, creating a movement that discredited more than it assisted the far left. Indeed, the behavior of the bulk of the New York intellectuals in the 1950s undermined the validity of the whole anti-Stalinist current of thought and even somewhat redeemed the Communist, fellow- traveling, and progressive liberals who acted heroically by comparison.

After all, in the face of the political repression--the first real test for the generation that came of age in the 1930s-most of the anti- Stalinists not only denuded themselves of past radicalism but developed sophisticated rationalizations for tolerating the essence if not the precise McCarthyite form of the witch-hunt. Responsibility for the bulk of the resistance among intellectuals, as well as for antiracist and anti-imperialist political activity, was handed over to the Communists, fellow travelers, and progressive liberals. These women and men may have suffered persecution at the time, but they achieved near martyrdom in the eyes of the next generation of left-wing intellectuals. Ignorance on the part of 1960s New Leftists was not the sole reason that apologists for Stalinism such as Lillian Hellman, Paul Robeson, and the Hollywood Ten were resurrected as moral beacons; their rehabilitation was the logical by-product of

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