I’ve been reading a volume of the letters of Dwight Macdonald lately. One bit I read this morning seemed particularly appropriate for B&W. It’s from a letter in December 1937, to Freda Kirchwey, the editor of the Nation, taking that magazine to task for a number of blind spots, such as being too ‘timid and stuffy-genteel’ in its editorial attitude to the New Deal’s recent swing to the right, and particularly for being hostile to the Commission that was investigating the Moscow Trials (he doesn’t mention John Dewey but I assume that’s the Commission usually known as the Dewey Commission).
While I was at Fortune, the Nation was always to me the great symbol of honest, truthful, intelligent journalism – everything that I missed at Fortune. But it now appears that the Nation, too, has its commitments, its investments, so to speak, just like Fortune. A journalistic investment in Soviet Russia seems to me no more admirable than a like investment in the Greatness and Goodness of Big Business.
Commitments and investments. There it is. Those are great things, necessary things, but they can rip such a hole in our ability to think straight and to see what’s in front of us – and above all to tell the truth about it. The late ’30s were notoriously a rough period for that kind of thing. What with the Moscow Trials, and Trotsky, and the POUM and the anarchists in Barcelona, and what had happened during the forced collectivization – there was a staggering amount of systematic lying, denial, looking away, self-deception in those years. It poisoned the air on the left for years, decades – arguably the left still hasn’t recovered. Watch those investments.