John Reed Clubs and the League of American Writers

"ART IS A CLASS WEAPON,"--slogan of the John Reed clubs.
I love that Oregon's blue book calls John Reed one of the state's notables.
Culture is always class culture. Through art the John Reed clubs offered a way for artists to reintegrate themselves into society. At the time of the national convention in 1934 there were 30 clubs with over 1,200 members. For background see: Eric Homberger's article
'Proletarian Literature and the John Reed Clubs 1929-1935,' Journal of American Studies, 12 (August 1979): 221-244.
As a literary strategy the JR Clubs were abandoned in favor of the League of American Writers.

Days of Anger, Days of Hope: A Memoir of the League of American Writers, 1937-1942, By Franklin Folsom; Niwot, Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 1994. 376 pp.

[reviewed by Alan Wald in ZMagazine]

Radical activists of the l990s have only limited access to the history of the pre-World War II U.S. cultural Left, because the generation that organized and led this extraordinary movement of committed writers and artists was largely silenced by Cold War anticommunism. The first narratives of the tradition of literary radicalism of the years following the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the advent of the Popular Front in 1935 were constructed by bitter ex-revolutionists who pioneered the growing antiradical crusade, such as the journalist Eugene Lyons in The Red Decade (1941), or authors who “saved” their literary careers through public recantation at the height of the Cold War, such as the six contributors to The God that Failed (1950).

When the country began shaking itself loose from the McCarthyite repression in the mid-1950s, rational and humane liberals, such as Professors Walter Rideout in The Radical Novel in the United States (1956) and Daniel Aaron in Writers on the Left (1961), sought to reinscribe mainly the 1930s activities of a range of novelists and literary critics as a worthy if troubled episode in our cultural history. Their books were followed in the early 1960s by a wave of reminiscences of eminent intellectuals who had somehow survived the McCarthyite purge of our cultural life and who sought to rehabilitate their own records through nostalgic accounts of youthful radicalism -- Matthew Josephson, Malcolm Cowley, Granville Hicks, Alfred Kazin, Edward Dahlberg, and Max Eastman, among others....

Throughout the four decades of this long rehabilitation process, almost nothing has been said by behind-the-scenes movers and shakers; that is, the organization people, almost always Communists, who for minuscule (if any) wages, set up the public meetings, prepared the campaigns, negotiated the political disputes, and often suffered ingratitude..... little is available to tell us the inside story of the activists. Instead, the information on organizations such as the John Reed Clubs, League of American Writers, American Artists Congress, and similar formations, is either sketchily depicted in standard studies or else surveyed in unpublished dissertations, master's theses, and honors essays. The scholars are individuals decades removed from the events and often without analogous experiences of their own by which to make the most useful assessments......
What is important about LAW is not just the litany of well known defects that stem from its being an organization of small resources run by fallible humans at a time when revolutionary hopes were confused with an idealized USSR. Rather, it is the potential demonstrated for uniting an enormous range of talent on behalf of the rights of labor, African Americans, the politically persecuted, and the anti-fascist resistance. Indeed, Folsom had to deal with a refractory melange of personalities such as Theodore Dreiser, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Richard Wright, and Dalton Trumbo. That many of these writers produced their most memorable works while collaborating with LAW gives lie to the popular belief that writing and militant political commitment don't mix. Moreover, LAW promoted writing schools and classes attended by 3,000 young people around the U.S., helping to launch a new generation of cultural radicals whose work in the 1940s and 1950s has yet to be recognized. .....
Days of Anger, Days of Hope is an extraordinary gift from one generation of socialist militants to the next. It is a fitting companion for the many novels and poetry collections of that era that are currently being reprinted. It is also a model for how activists in social movements should make the effort to record and document experiences. ......for full review see Alan Wald's article in ZMagazine.