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9 - Jewish American writers on the Left

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 May 2006

Hana Wirth-Nesher
Affiliation:
Tel-Aviv University
Michael P. Kramer
Affiliation:
Bar-Ilan University, Israel
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Summary

The appeal of the Left

The literary category of US Writers on the Left was initially delimited by Daniel Aaron in his 1961 Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism. The genus pertains chiefly to mid-twentieth century authors and literary intellectuals inspired by the ideas of Marxism, most notably through an attraction to the Communist-led cultural movement. During the first two decades, only a modest number of distinguished poets, novelists, critics, and dramatists declared themselves socialists; they fashioned an amorphous, somewhat Bohemian legacy of art in the service of the emancipation of the working class in the pages of publications such as the Masses and the Liberator. This heritage would be revivified in new form as a repercussion of the social crisis of the 1930s when an extraordinary number of the most gifted writers veered precipitously in the direction of the revolutionary Left. During the 1940s, this tradition of “littérature engagée” evolved as a constituent component of the cultural mainstream, but in the 1950s it was ultimately marginalized by the anti-radical political repression of the McCarthy era.

The Bolshevik rendition of Marxism is the conspicuous political feature at the heart of this legacy. Sundry of the most capable writers were passionately enthralled by the ideals of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, which they believed to be embodied in the activities and ideology of the Communist Party. Even Left critics of the Stalin regime often based their condemnation on writings by Lenin and Trotsky. The attraction remained potent through World War II but waned as the Cold War began.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2003

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