Inspiring Older Readers
Trinity of Passion: The Literary Left & The Antifascist Crusade by Alun M. Wald
Trinity of Passion is the second book in a mighty trilogy of work that explores the legacy of the literary Left in the USA. Having said it’s part of a trilogy, each of the books can be read as a freestanding, individual pieces in their own right and, for my money, this one is even better than the first - Exiles from a Future Time. The final part dealing with the period of the Cold War, American Night, was published in 2012 and I have that in the inevitable ‘waiting to be read’ queue.
In this instalment Wald is interested in examining the response of the literary Left to the threat of the rising tide of European Fascism, from the Spanish Civil War through to the Second World War. What I found really intriguing was his focus on lesser known writers as well as some of the big hitters – so we get the likes of Len Zinberg (aka Ed Lacey) and Alvah Bessie alongside Hemingway, Chester Himes, Irwin Shaw and a host of others I was unfamiliar with and whose books I now have to add to my ‘must get’ list.
Wald takes an interesting organisational approach to his material, teasing out some themes that might not have been immediately obvious. So the book kicks off with what I think is the very best section and deals with the idea of the Left writer and concepts of Jewish masculinity. I found this the most engagingly written part of the whole book and I was genuinely fascinated by the culture created by the Jewish US writers of the International Brigades and their contribution to the Communist Party inspired Popular Front.
He moves on to look at the role of the Black writer and uncovers the racism at the very heart of the idea of liberal democracy. There is some particularly intriguing information here about the way in which fear of Fascists stirring and fomenting unrest in Harlem amongst the Black population became something of an obsession for writers on the Left. Although there was indeed sporadic unrest amongst the population of Harlem there seems to be very little evidence that it was inspired by the far Right – seeming to spring instead from quite legitimate concerns within the Black population of their marginalisation within a so-called democratic society.
Probably the big coup of this book is in the last chapter entitled Arthur Miller’s Missing Chapter. Although Miller’s political sympathies are well recorded elsewhere, what Wald is able to reveal in this book and for the first time is that Miller had an alter-ego or at least a writing pseudonym – Matt Wayne, a pro-communist critic and activist.
Circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that Matt Wayne was, indeed, Arthur Miller. Following a request that I turn off my tape recorder and not take notes, I was advised of this identity by two former Communists…..editors of the New Masses during the 1940s.
Wald explores why it was that such effort seems to have been expended on keeping this alias so covert:
What is lamentable is that the pains of liberal commentators to protect Miller from being stereotyped as a onetime Communist fellow traveller achieve results parallel to the efforts of those who might depict Miller as an apologist for totalitarianism. Both interpretations deny the acquisition of the wisdom Miller gained as he abandoned a pro-Soviet orientation and embraced the independent radicalism with which he infused culture in the United States during the second half of his life.
This piece of original research isn’t, I’m glad to say, allowed to overpower the balance of the book and Weld maintains his reasoned, informed and steady tone of enquiry from beginning to end. As a revelation this is one of the more low key examples of the art of the journalistic scoop but I suspect in the hands of some others it would have been raised to an artificial peak of dramatic tension that such a revelation probably doesn’t deserve.
Like the study by Alan Sinfield reviewed elsewhere on this site, this is another example of a book with a meticulous and indispensable bibliography and reference list for you to explore. I think you’d have to have extraordinary self-control not to keep putting this book down in order to hunt for some of the titles he’s introduced here.
I must also say that the book jacket has an unbelievably cool photograph of Alvah Bessie during his time with the Lincoln Brigade in Spain – that alone makes the book worth having in my opinion. Copies can be found for very sensible prices below £10 on various internet sites and I think you’ll find that this is a good investment.