FROM RIGHT TO LEFT: An Autobiography by Frederick Vanderbilt Field

FROM RIGHT TO LEFT: An Autobiography

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The untroubled memoirs--engaging and disquieting--of America's foremost silver-spoon Communist. As Field (b. 1905) tells it, he moved smoothly, naturally, and logically to the far Left--less from repugnance at the family wealth than through study and reflection; he regrets only that he, along with others, took Stalin's 1930s purge trials at face value (until Khruschev in 1956 told them otherwise) and that, in opposing America's entry into World War II, he gave equal weight to British imperialism and Hitler's Nazism; once or twice, he may have been manipulated by the Party. But at the time he left the US for Mexican exile in 1953 (apart from his own McCarthyera harassment, his Canadian-born third wife faced deportation), he still felt that ""the CP was the principal organization through which I could work at the political level with some degree of effectiveness to combat the ills of our society."" A sympathetic judge once called Field an ""honest,"" ""naive"" Communist, and while he of course rejects the latter, that's probably as good an assessment as any--and for two unremarked reasons: he was never a rank-and-file member of a CP cell (""It wouldn't be of any advantage to you or to the Party,"" said Gene Dennis); he made only one brief trip to the USSR, and hardly interested himself in Soviet affairs. His bailiwick, initially by chance, was the Far East. In 1928 (after Harvard and a year at the London School of Economics), he joined the nascent, scholarly Institute of Pacific Relations, and served with unassailable distinction until 1940; meanwhile he shifted from the Socialist to the Communist Party, and (mainly under a pseudonym) expressed his Far Eastern political convictions in its publications (including Amerasia, which he launched for that purpose with a Communist friend). To those with a particular interest in left-wing intellectual affairs, or American Communist history, Field's steadfast defense of his parallel lives is the book's most provocative aspect. For the ordinary inquisitive reader, it's a charming curio: from period-piece recollections of growing up at 645 Fifth Avenue (across the street from other Vanderbilts) and palatial High Lawn, in Lenox, Mass. (with some thoughts, in both places, on the role of the servants) to amusing vignettes of his nine months in assorted Federal prisons (with ""Dash"" Hammett and other non-squealers) to a last fond remembrance of Marilyn Monroe in Mexico. Though Field also seizes the opportunity to dispute some old, oft-told tales, mostly this is both uncontentious and unapologetic: a gracious, slightly unreal retrospect that (as he recognizes) only a person of Field's economic independence could afford.

Pub Date: July 29th, 1983
Publisher: Lawrence Hill