Alan Wald on the literature of the Browder era

Trinity of Passion: the Literary Left and the Antifascist Crusade

University of North Carolina Press, 2007, (319 pages).

Alan Wald, a cultural historian of the U.S. left and editorial board member of Against the Current, is now midway through a projected trilogy on leftist writers of the twentieth century. Trinity of Passion: the Literary Left and the Antifascist Crusade focuses (primarily) on novelists of the thirties and forties and their relationship to the Spanish Civil War, the Popular Front, and the African-American struggle against racism during this period. The phrase “Trinity of Passion” comes from a poem by Edwin Rolfe, an Abraham Lincoln Battalion veteran.

Unlike the writers treated in Wald’s best known book, the excellent The New York Intellectuals: the Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s, those he profiles here are either members or close fellow travelers of the Communist Party.

Some of the highlights of the book are his discussions of the politics of African-American novelist Ann Petry, the writers of the large Yiddish-language CP press, and the political journey of playwright Arthur Miller, who we learn here sometimes used the pen name Matt Wayne in party publications.

Wald read his way through a prodigious amount of obscure novels from the period. While he doesn’t always make a strong case for the literary merit of some of this material, he does succeed in crafting a detailed view of the lost world of the cultural orbit of the CP (he includes a fascinating picture of the Daily Worker‘s city room among the books photographs).

His discussion of the Party’s subordination of the African-American struggle to the war effort of the Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin Grand Alliance is in my view the book’s most noteworthy aspect and a welcome antidote to the influential revisionist school of historiography on the CP’s relationship to Black America.

The final book of Wald’s trilogy is to be titled The American Night: The Literary Left in the Era of the Cold War. Like this book and Wald’s other efforts, I anticipate that it will be worth reading.

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