MICHAEL GOLD: POETRY IN RED JOURNALISM
By John Pietaro
doing so forged the American proletarian novel.is was a literary version of the Ashcan school of painting: realism, yes, but with a hyper sense about it. Hell, Gold wrote in social realism. His words were streamed in an orderly manner which felt conversational yet were anything but. The challenge, indeed the confrontation, was always lurking just behind any gentle bit of dialogue…
The New Play-wrights—John Dos Passos, John Howard Lawson, Francis Faragoh., Michael Gold, Em Jo Basshe—impatient with the restraint of conventional theatre, have set up one of their own, bolstered up by the generous purse of Otto Hermann Kahn. Here, at old Bim's, now the 52nd Street Theatre, they propose to experiment with those radical dramatic forms of whose marketability the commercial producers are suspicious.
Their first production, Loud Speaker, was written by John Howard Lawson, author of Processional (TIME, Jan. 26, 1925). As expected, it is staged against a "constructivist" background and presents the subjective state of the principal characters as well as their objective actions. The virtue of such staging is that, by affording the playwright several planes of action on one stage, it allows greater flexibility than is permitted by the rigid three-walled limitations of ordinary theatre. Thus, in Loud Speaker, the candidate for governor of the State may be discovered mulling over his radio speech in one corner of the stage, while his memory of an Atlantic City bathing beauty may be enacted in another corner. His daughter may black-bottom on an upper level and his wife receive a weird, bearded, hypnotic lover on still another. By proper punctuation and emphasis, such a production may be made colorful, clear, rapid, nervous, like jazz music. (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,846123,00.html#ixzz1HoPY32nN)
The Communist Party cultural brain trust led by VJ Jerome, Joseph Freeman and Gold quickly set plans for a nation-wide radical artists’ collective in Reed’s name, focusing on writers but encompassing cultural workers from every fold. Once proven in New York City, the John Reed Clubs took the lead in the push for a proletarian literary drive while hosting events by musicians, actors, dancers, painters and others. The Reed Clubs produced classes, lectures, concerts and exhibits; it published a series of magazines, newsletters, pamphlets and books and offered tutelage to fledgling cultural workers that combined lessons in social change with the arts. Membership included both the celebrated and the up-and-coming, largely all Communists, who sought to create works of social revolution. The Clubs spawned a series of off-shoot gatherings specific to different genres such as the Pierre DeGeyter Club of modernist concert musicians and the Red Dancers which served to develop modern dance of social conscience.
In January of 1930, Gold, by this time the best known of the proletarian journalists and a high priest, so to speak, of Communist cultural workers in the US, wrote of the origins of the John Reed Club, its multi-disciplinary nature, and his intent to guide it in a manner which would secure the artist’s relationship with the worker:
The John Reed Club was organized about two months ago here in New York. It is a small group of writers, artists, sculptors, musicians and dancers of revolutionary tendencies…Several activities have begun. The artists arranged an exhibition at the Workers Co-Operative House in the Bronx. About 35 pictures were hung. The exhibit will be shown for about four weeks. Over 300 workers came to the opening. There was a furious discussion led by Lozowick, Basshe, Gropper, Klein and others…At the next meeting I shall propose the following:
“That every writer in the group attach himself to one of the industries. That he spend the next few years in and out of this industry, studying it from every angle, making himself an expert in it, so that when he writes of it, he will write with like an insider, not like a bourgeois intellectual observer. He will help on the publicity in strikes, etc. He will have his roots in something real. The old Fabians used to get together and write essays based on the books they had read. We will get close to the realities” (Gold, Michael. The Daily Worker, January 1930; source: Dilling, Elizabeth, The Red Network: A Who’s Who and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots. Self-published, 1934, page 180)
Gold became a national figure, cultural commissar of the Communist Party, arbiter of artistic value according to the artist’s political allegiances. As the Twenties had buoyed up F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Thirties buoyed up Michael Gold—it was the decade for which he was born. In 1933 he became daily columnist for the Daily Worker, the mass circulation Communist Party newspaper. In 1935 in the introduction for a new edition of Jews Without Money, Gold noted that it had been translated into French, Swedish, Bohemian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Jugo-Slavian [sic], Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Ukrainian, Russian, Yiddish, Dutch, and Tatar and was particularly proud that “German radicals had translated it and were spreading it widely as a form of propaganda against the Nazi anti-Semitic lies.” (Gross, Barry. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol. 5. Ed. Paul Lauter. New York: Heath, 2005).
(Wald, Alan M. Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth Century Literary Left. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2002, pg. 55).
Perhaps the best description of the radical literary figures Mike Gold walked with in his time is supplied by Gold himself from an article written in 1946, perhaps in light of the Red Scare, then preparing to evolve from the embers of V.E. Day:
Marxism flourished…during the first half of the 1930s…New writers wrote “proletarian novels”, plays and poems and became a main stream in our national culture, that formed the finest literary epoch our country has known since the Golden Age of Whitman, Emerson and Melville. It was a fighting art, a Marxist art, and frankly a weapon in the class struggle then raging so openly…We must find our way back to the main highway…We must rebuild the Marxist cultural front, with its literary magazines, theatres, music and art. (Gold, Mike, Daily Worker, March 1946; source-Wald, Alan M. Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth Century Literary Left. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2002, pg. 57).
the montonous gibberings of paranoiacs in the private wards of asylums ...The literary idiocy of Gertrude Stein only reflects the madness of the whole system of capitalist values. It is part of the signs of doom that are written largely everywhere on the walls of bourgeois society."
He was noticeably harder on Party members whom he felt had lost sight of the mission and took continuous pot-shots at the likes of Albert Maltz and Howard Fast. And so this raised the question: just what is the mission of an artist engaged in social activism? The outcome was surely not what he’d hoped for; while Gold worked closely with Party cultural leaders to build the John Reed Clubs, ushering in new and exciting cultural workers and establishing a school of writing which crossed boundaries and raised the awareness of countless artists, he turned off many of them in the process. It was impossible, it seemed to some, to be both revolutionary and disciplined-- Gold himself fell victim to this conflict throughout his career. Perhaps, he was not aware of how to rise above this and became deeper entrenched in the murk of uncertainty. His own noncompliance with deadlines and bold championing of experimental theatre works belied his doctrinaire sensibility. Yet simultaneously he accused the likes of Albert Maltz of “social fascism” and disavowed modernist arts as bourgeois tools, thus the conundrum rolled on. Still, his relevance remains clear.
According to historian Alan M. Wald in his study of Leftist writers,
"Simply put, no single individual contributed more to forging the tradition of proletarian literature as a genre in the United States after the 1920s. All who came after Gold would stand on the shoulders of his legacy. Part of the explanation for Gold’s impact was his colorful semi-autonomy from the Party officials such as Jerome on the Party headquarters “Ninth Floor”. The dazzling blend of proletarianism, bohemianism, romanticism, and even a strain of modernism that comprised the early 1930s mix of Left poetry was quite evident in Gold’s own personality and career". (Wald, Alan M. Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth Century Literary Left. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2002, pp 39-40).
Buhle, Mari Jo, Paul Buhle, Dan Georgakis, Encyclopedia of the American Left. Chicago: St Martin’s Press, 1990
Daily Worker collection- Fighting Words: Selections from Twenty-Five Years of the Daily Worker. NY: New Century Publishers, 1949
Dilling, Elizabeth, The Red Network: A Who’s Who and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots. Self-published, 1934
Gold, Michael. The Daily Worker, January 1930
Gold, Michael. The Mike Gold Reader. New York: International Publishers, 1954
Gross, Barry. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol. 5. Ed. Paul Lauter. New York: Heath, 2005.
Spartacus School website - http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAgold.htm
Time Magazine, 1927 - http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,846123,00.html#ixzz1HoPY32nN
Wald, Alan M. Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth Century Literary Left. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2002