A BETTER WORLD: The Great Schism: Stalinism and the American Intellectuals by William L. O'Neill

A BETTER WORLD: The Great Schism: Stalinism and the American Intellectuals

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the 1930s, New York's famous intellectuals--Max Eastman, Max Lerner, Sidney Hook, Dwight Macdonald, Irving Howe--took their literary axes to one another over the nature and threat of the Soviet Union and anti-Soviet behavior. O'Neill, a Rutgers U. historian and the biographer of Eastman, is certain that truth is on the side of the anti-communists, whom he dubs the anti-Stalinists (as opposed to the fellow-travelers whom he calls progressives). In a packed narrative in which the protagonists often appear to be publications--The Nation, The New Republic, Partisan Review--O'Neill begins with the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact and the problems this posed for left-wing intellectuals, and concentrates on the literary squabbles that continued up to McCarthyism, with lesser attention to subsequent Vietnam War debates. O'Neill ridicules the likes of Lerner, Edgar Snow, Harold Laski, and F. O. Matthiessen for their blindness toward Soviet repression under Stalin and for their hopes, once the USSR entered the war, of a peaceful postwar world. (He also deems Laski's books rightly left unread, Matthiessen's American Renaissance a landmark without literary values, etc.) On every score, meanwhile, the anti-Stalinists were right: on the USSR, on McCarthy (despite's the group's equivocation), on Vietnam. (In the latter instance, O'Neill rejects the view that anti-communism fed the climate that resulted in such involvements.) Conferences and literary forums are dutifully recounted, and articles are copiously excerpted--but there is only History in Black-and-White: no complexity, no shadings, no insight. By contrast, William Barrett's The Truants is a frankly partisan account of many of these same matters, while Irving Howe's forthcoming autobiography, A Margin of Hope (p. 1038), brings them all zestfully and scouringly to life.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster