Rebels in Bohemia: The Radicals of the Masses, 1911-1917

By Leslie Fishbein | Go to book overview

Chapter 10 Life-style and Radicalism

As social and cultural rebels The Masses' radicals faced the difficulties of integrating their political commitments into their lives. More moderate socialists might lead lives of impeccably bourgeois respectability, but new radicals scorned their Victorian past to dabble in bohemian ways. As rebels against both convention and capitalism, they found themselves caught in contradiction. Was not bohemianism inimical to the ascetic discipline demanded of a dedicated revolutionary? Would it not alienate its Village practitioners from the workers they sought to reach? Yet if their radicalism were rooted in their rejection of Victorianism, could they successfully sever that rebellion from its roots? Were true revolutionaries to be spartan and self-disciplined, soldier- like in their struggles, or were they, by their example, to teach others to live as if the revolution already had occurred? What personal succor would they need to sustain their political commitments? As Freudians as well as Marxists, these radicals lived at a pitch of heightened self-consciousness. Theirs was an introspective rebellion, marked by constant analysis and confessional. And the challenge that they posed for themselves as artists and as radicals involved the creation of a life-style appropriate to both commitments. Living itself demanded an artistry that could challenge the complacency of others. In Sherwood Anderson Windy McPherson's Son ( 1916) John Telfer boasts to Sam McPherson: " 'I do not paint pictures; I do not write books; yet am I an artist,' declared Telfer, proudly. 'I am an artist practising the most difficult of all arts -- the art of living. Here in this western village I stand and fling my challenge to the world. "On the lip of not the greatest of you," I cry, "has life been more sweet." ' "1

The link between the art of life and radical artistry, however, remained elusive. The prewar radicals believed that their lives should be a testament to a postcapitalist world, yet they remained uncertain whether their bohemian life-styles detracted from their efficacy as revolutionaries. They longed to achieve the mystical unity of the trinity, integrating art, politics, and personal life, and they found only relentless doubt. Living before the Bolshevik Revo

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