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

By Leslie Fishbein | Go to book overview

Chapter 11 The End of Radical Innocence

The radical renaissance of the prewar years in Greenwich Village was a time of great promise both in culture and politics. Those who participated in it or who were affected by its fervor believed in the possibility of transforming society within their own lifetime, in a revolution of consciousness that would transcend any change in political rule. The new radicals existed in that special time before the revolution when one's goals seem tantalizingly near, when excitement adds spice to commitment, when the personal and the political fuse to release new sources of human energy. Nevertheless, the promise of these years died with the Great War and the Russian Revolution. What happened to the vision of new radicals? Why did they fail and their dream die?

For many of them the revolt was too personal; it lacked sufficient commitment to party or ideology to survive the vicissitudes of time. As they matured (or adapted) and their individual problems became less pressing, such new radicals turned away from the discipline and sacrifice of political work to seek refuge in private life. For example, Floyd Dell valued his literary career more highly than his political obligations. Richard Fitzgerald has noted: "When John Reed, home from the Soviet Union in 1918, told Floyd Dell he would organize a communist party in the United States, a disciplined party of professional revolutionaries, Dell replied that he would not join it because he was a 'professional writer'; thus Dell expressed the very bourgeois egotism that he later criticized in his 1923-1924Liberator articles."1 Boardman Robinson retreated to a studio in an old barn near Croton-on-Hudson next to that of Max Eastman; he enjoyed his solitude and the opportunity "to read and make a great many drawings which did not sell."2Mabel Dodge looked back nostalgically upon her affair with John Reed and his revolutionary charm. She gave up all sense of her personal power to undermine the status quo: "My young lover was gone, and, it seemed, gone with him were the younger hopes of change. With a world at war, one somehow ceased to war with systems and circumstances. Instinctively I turned once more to nature and art and tried to

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