Masses & Mainstream
March, 1953, pp 50-52
Years of Battle
By Howard Fast
WHILE it may be that anniversaries are traditionally and inescapably boring, they are necessary to note. They serve to some degree as a clock does, imparting a sense of time, and very often, a note of urgency. This particular fifth anniversary of a very particular and extraordinary magazine must be seen as a most unusual event, framed by most unusual circumstances. Masses and Mainstream was born in a very troubled time indeed; it drew its first breaths in the cold air of cold war; in its childhood it saw a climate of terror being prepared; its youth was within an existing condition of terror; and now its fine maturity of five years gives fruit, even as dozens of additional political prisoners enter the prisons of the Federal Government.
Stretching an analogy to consider a periodical as one might a soldier, I salute a magazine born and nurtured in battle. There have been few moments of peace and contemplation for Masses and Mainstream; instead, five unusual, amazing, and quite unparalleled years of uninterrupted struggle for peace, for freedom, for democracy, and for the ordinary elements of human dignity.
The five years seem less than that. I speak of them with intimate recollection, since I was there at the birthing, and witnessed the labor pains that brought a magazine to life. Our hearts were high then, and the future we saw, I must admit, did not entirely resemble the actuality it came to be. Some two years before Masses and Mainstream came into being, many of us were beginning to scent in the air that bitterly familiar smell which has been described as fascism. In April of 1946, in New Masses, a well loved and venerable fighter which sired the present subject of discussion, I wrote a thing which I entitled "Reveille for Writers." The editors of New Masses, in their kindness to me, gave it the following subtitle:
"A call to all men of good will to be counted in the march up freedom road. The ivory tower is no refuge from the atom bomb."
I said at that time that it was later than people thought. It was also earlier. Those of us who fought so desperately to keep New Masses alive were keenly aware that a future was in the making that was unprecedented in our land. Good people and wise people and decent people might possibly do bad and foolish and indecent things under the stress of a terror new to America and new to the lives of American intellectuals.
The years since then have been full years, and many things have happened here in America, and in other places in the world as well. If our concern were to be limited to intellectuals whom we have known and worked with, then we would have to say that in those years the listing became considerable of those who preferred shame and retreat to honor and attack. The miracle of the moment is, of course, that within this period of cold war and police terror, a magazine of the Left came into being and endured for five years, and now prepares itself cheerfully not simply to endure the next five, but to move into them with anger, indignation, and resistance.
WE ARE by no means at a moment of summing up. At best, we have paused for a little while at a way-station, or a bit of cover in the midst of the field of battle. But in any case this can be said, that five years have proven a point which those of us on the editorial board of Masses and Mainstream made quite specifically five years and more ago: the point being that those who resist will survive. As intellectuals we have taken up a noble and challenging banner, the banner of Whitman, Douglass, John Reed and Theodore Dreiser. Our struggle for peace is joined with the struggle of Aragon, Neruda, Ehrenburg and Hikmet. And we draw strength from bold and noble men like Steve Nelson, whose twenty-year prison sentence for "sedition" is a national shame that must rouse the protests of all men and women of conscience.
On the masthead of our editorial page is a very proud list of names indeed, and there are several times as many more who are not listed there. These I would not presume to name and particularize as partisan fighters of the cold war. Never troubled by lack of weapons, unabashed, and very often with a mighty dignity, they have fought on as intellectuals through five years of growing terror and police-state intimidation. I know almost all of them personally, and it has been a good thing to see how they grew in dignity and courage, and in their understanding of the world in general, and of each other.
The fifth anniversary of Masses and Mainstream is also a fifth anniversary for the group of intellectuals who surround it. Even today, when we are still perhaps a considerable distance from the final outcome of this conflict, the measurement of these people against the cowards, the renegades, the namers of names, the con-men of literature and the stool-pigeons of letters is quite obvious The unperturbed and proud bearing of those intellectuals who have remained faithful to the people wipes out the stain of dirty little men who have tried hard to make dishonor a permanent part of the American tradition.
The five years of Masses and Mainstream are five years of struggle by America's intellectuals under the leadership of the left. Theirs is the honor of neither abdicating nor retreating We have reached a point where we can say with some certainty that the next five years will not lessen their purpose.