Embodying orthodoxy: Howard Fast and the Party

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Howard Fast

The 1957 Saturday Review article in which novelist Howard Fast recounted his history in the Communist Party – and declared his resignation therefrom – provided an illuminating look behind the scenes of an ugly system that thrived on useful stoogery.

For example, Fast recalled a New York conference at which the American author Mary McCarthy asked a high-profile Soviet author, Alexander Fadayev, what had happened to a number of Soviet writers whom they carefully named,” in reply to which Fadayev

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Mary McCarthy

not only gave his solemn word as a Soviet citizen that all of the named writers were alive and well, but…brilliantly ticked off the titles and description of the work that each particular writer was engaged upon. He told where they lived, when he had seen them, and even repeated details of their merry reaction to the “capitalist slander” that they were being persecuted. So smooth and ready was his rejoinder, so rich was the substance of his quickly supplied background, that one might well credit him with more creative imagination than he had ever shown in his own books. As chairman of the panel, I was quite naturally provoked that Miss McCarthy and her friends should so embarrass this fine and distinguished guest. His conviction and meticulous sincerity were above suspicion, and I think, if I remember correctly, that not only myself but Miss McCarthy and her friends were at least in some measure convinced that he spoke the truth. Like myself, how could they possibly have believed that a man would create such a monstrous and detailed lie and expect it to hold water?

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Alexander Fadayev

Yet Fast later learned that every last one of the writers McCarthy had asked about had, in fact, at the time of that New York conference, been “either dead from the torture chambers of the secret police or by firing squads, or lying in prison being tortured and beaten.” Fast had imagined that a respected writer like Fadayev was constitutionally incapable of telling such a massive lie, especially about such a serious matter as the well-being (or not) of his own literary colleagues; but in reality Fadayev had been a bald-faced liar, a thoroughly obedient tool of the Kremlin – ready, willing, and able to serve up utter fabrications in the service of a monstrous tyranny.

Fast admitted that he himself had been capable of doing this sort of thing:

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Albert Maltz

When Albert Maltz, in 1946, sent to the New Masses an article that contained a rather mild criticism of the narrow and sectarian Communist attitude toward literature, he was treated as if he had committed a major crime. I include myself among those who blew up his criticism all out of proportion to its intent – a matter for which I have never forgiven myself, even though Maltz found it so easy to forgive and forget. Meetings were held. Mike Gold denounced Maltz with passion and language that a civilized person would reserve for pathological criminals. The fact that Albert Maltz was a writer of talent and unshakable integrity meant absolutely nothing.

Recalling this episode, historian Ron Capshaw wrote that Fast wasn’t just one of several people who criticized Maltz – he was, on the contrary, a brutal ringleader, an ideological enforcer out of Central Casting, “the embodiment of orthodoxy” who was “one of the most vicious of [John Howard] Lawson’s minions” (Lawson being the screenwriter who ran the Party’s Hollywood branch). To quote Capshaw, Fast “pounced” on Maltz.

More tomorrow.

3 thoughts on “Embodying orthodoxy: Howard Fast and the Party

  1. In fact, it’s important to note that the root of modern censorship has roots of Soviet infiltration. The greatest trick they ever pulled was convincing the public that it was “crazy” to think that Soviets could infiltrate our society – which is the truth

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