Sunday, May 6, 2018

Feeling You Must Run To The Phone To Get Instruction On What To Think From The Party As Freedom

Last night's round in this weeks brawl led me to go back and look at a book I haven't cracked in decades, not since shortly after it came out and I first read Marc The Music:  The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein by Eric A. Gordon.  I haven't cracked the book because it's one of those biographies that so totally turned me off of the subject and their work that I haven't had a thing to do with Marc Blitzstein since reading it. 

Like when I read a sort of memoir-biography of the poet Alan Tate, reading about what a total jerk, creep and asshole the subject of the biography was mixed with all kinds of claims of their charm and attractiveness - and knowing the relatively minor status of their work - left me totally puzzled as to what about  themmade the really repellant aspects of the men unimportant to those who maintained an affection for them.   It was as if their reputation seemed to compel a pretense of respectability and virtue, and affection where none was deserved.

Rereading the following section, from the Winter-1938- Spring 1940 section of the book made me think that Communism in the elite academic-journalistic culture of the 20th century has enjoyed a quite similar habit of thought, if not conformist cowardice.  How anyone could overlook the tens of millions of murders, the genocides, the total and complete  and violent, not to mention murderous suppression of every civil right the ACLU could whine about communists in the United States being deprived of - often amounting to not much more than a loss of earning potential and some hardship or academic appointment, is certainly something that lefties and the leftish should consider hard.  I really did mean it when I said that my conclusion is that, matching the Nazis in the practice of mass murder, suppression of human rights through crushing, violent state terror, the Marxists who enjoyed living in Western democracies are as worthy of disdain as the American supporters of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco.  Yes, including the Hollywood 10 and the circle that included the Rosenbergs and all of the rest of those who lived long enough to see Marxism in action.   Especially today when the results of experiments in a number of countries are in and the uniformly oppressive, murderous results of dialectical materialism are known.

It's decades past the time when anyone should rotely repeat the old lies about the moral status of Marxism,  those sequels should have stopped a long, long time ago.   There is no reason to let anti-anti-communism force us to repeat those lies.

Before reading it,  David Diamond was a composer who Marc Blitzstein was having a very open affair with at the time, Blitzstein's most likely sexless marriage to his wife Eve having ended with her death some time earlier.  Yaddo is a subsidized rural artists' "colony" providing artists with residencies in New York,  sort of like the Macdowell in New Hampshire.

On September 1 he returned to Yaddo, and Diamond was back there by then too.  But now everything had changed  On August 23,  the Nazis and the Soviets had signed a treaty of nonaggression, the so-called Hitler-Stalin Pact,  pledging neutrality in case of war.  Secretly, the treaty also assigned to each nation its own sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

Italy had invaded Ethiopia back in 1936.  The British and French had timidly facilitated the German takeover of the Sudentenland in 1938, and the dismemberment of the rest of Czechoslovakia the following March  Spain had finally fallen to Franco in 1939 as well.  The Soviets were horrified by the obvious fact that the “democracies” cared nothing about the integrity of Europe' borders.  Indeed after more than a decade of Hitler's ranting against Bolshevism, the Soviet concluded that Germany might well be preparing to invade their territory.  They decided that if the Western powers could not unite with them to stop the forward march of Nazism, they would at least protect themselves by buying the time to build up their own defenses.  

I'm going to break in here and note that the author doesn't much seem to want to notice that the Soviets under both Lenin and Stalin had similarly invaded and absorbed neighboring countries, conducting mass murdering purges and violently suppressing the People of those places.  As this catalog of fascist and Nazi atrocity was being compiled, the planned starvation of Ukraine was well underway and had been reported, accurately, in the Western media for years.   There are certainly grounds for condemning the governments of the West in the harshest of terms for their slowness in addressing the Nazis acting similarly to how Lenin and, especially Stalin had been acting for more than a decade, but that exculpation of Stalin for making what he thought was a mutually beneficial pact is too generous to Stalin by a an unacceptable degree.  It's exactly the kind of absurd benefit of the doubt that Western academics have practiced pretty much since 1917.  Consider how the next paragraph continues from the point of view of the countries invaded by Stalin, especially in light of their previous experience of Russian-Soviet aggression.  That history was certainly known by those responsible in the Western governments' reluctant to make common cause with Stalin until there was no other choice.

On the first of September 1939, the Germans invaded Western Poland.  The Soviets overran the eastern half of the country.  Each counted on the others concurrence.  This move went too far for France and England, however, and they declared war on Germany.   Within a year, also by German leave the Soviets took over the Baltic countries and invaded Finland.  In the ensuing period of nonintervention,  Soviet and German cultural policies reversed themselves:  Now German orchestras played Russian and Soviet music widely and broadcast it on the radio, while the Soviets recruited Sergei Eisenstein to stage a massive production of Die Walküre at the Bolshi.  the full extent of German-Soviet cooperation in other fields, military and intelligence notably, has yet to be exactly determined.

The American Communist Party, like the Communist parties everywhere in the world, was thrown into a tailspin by the sudden, strange apparition of a Soviet Union now friendly with the Nazi regime.  For years, Communists had implored the Western democracies to make common cause with the Soviets against Hitler, but Hitler proceeded unchecked, even encouraged by Western appeasement.  Was it still correct now to be anti-Nazi

Blitzstein accomplished little the first week he was back at Yaddo.  He no longer knew what political position to take.  Several times a day he ran to the main house to answer telephone calls from New York.  The poet Delmore Schwartz, a Trotskyist, also at Yaddo, and Blitzstein nearly came to blows with him over politics.  Marc argued with David [Diamond] incessantly and violently.  Like many Jews both in and outside the Party, Diamond could not stomach the German-Soviet treaty, and he disagreed with Marc's unqualified defense of Stalin.  Marc tried to engage David's sympathy for the Soviet position,  but Diamond would not yield. Then Blitzstein baldly told him how ignorant of the world he was. 

At the end of a week,  Marc went to New York for a couple of days, almost certainly to confer with his Party comrades.  Perhaps the future of his new opera would be endangered by the new developments.  It surely appeared as though the Party was falling apart rapidly, with the protest resignations of large numbers of its Jewish members.  His own form of “protest,” if that's what it was, was to shave off his mustache – perhaps it reminded him too much of both Hitler and Stalin – though it shortly came back as his trademark.  In New York,  he also took the opportunity to visit his old hangout,  the Everard Baths, where, in between a number of sexual adventures that he recounted to David on his return, he spotted the painter Pavel Tchelitchev.  

Back at Yaddo, Marc fluctuated between moments of hard-bitten political intransigence and other times extraordinary intransigence and other times of  extraordinary tenderness toward his friends there  . . . 

Re-reading the first several chapters of the book, last night, I was reminded of how repellant it was to read how Marc Blitzstein was such a rabid, repulsively self-righteously correct Communist that he would have literally and slavishly and fanatically have followed the very real party-line, allowing the party to determine not only his actions but also his thoughts. And that he harangued other composers and artists on their lapses in following that party-line.  I can easily imagine him doing what the leaders of various artists' "unions" in the Soviet union did, enforcing artistic restrictions in a way and with violent coercion (not excluding torture and violent death) that makes the Hollywood moguls look impotent in that regard.  Imagine if he'd been able to denounce Delmore Schwartz to the authorities, as I can easily imagine him vindictively and self-righteously doing and bragging about. 

Like the ridiculous practice of fanatical materialists who claim they are "free thinkers" as they ideologically deny the possibility of free thought, it is ridiculous for anyone to identify the Communist Party with any kind of struggle for freedom or liberty or civil rights  The absurdity of that decades long practice has come home to roost as the American Nazis who would, with far more of a chance of accomplishing it, suppress every right they chose to for every person they chose to, have taken up the mantle of "free speech" that was fashioned to fit the convenience of various Marxists and anarchists and pornographers by well-off lawyers and justices and law profs in their hire.

I used to advise those who liked Blitzstein's music to not read this book because I thought they'd probably have the same reaction to learning about his life that I did,  I can't listen to his music anymore.  It was never something I much liked, I always thought he was overrated, mostly on the basis of the famous legend of the suppressed, impromptu remounting of The Cradle Will Rock, the stuff much more of theatrical legend than musical triumph.  Now I'd recommend people read it to see just what a malignant blight American communism was.   Just think of Marc Blitzstein running to the phone to find out what he was to think from the Communist central committee.

Update:  Since writing this  early this morning I've gone to Youtube and listened to some of David Diamond's work, Symphonies #5 and 6 and have to say he was a pretty good composer, much better than Blitzstein was.   His tonal music which he, apparently, continued to compose at least up to 1990 is rare in not having many signs of being derivative, it's not Copland-like at all.  I'd make comparisons to Benjamin Britten or the early symphonies of Roger Sessions but Diamond's is not really like the music of any other composer I'm aware of except in the most general way.  In that ability to use the old sounds and techniques of tonality and make it, somehow, your own he reminds me more of the Canadian composer Harry Somers.  It's good to go back and try composers you'd laid aside.   I can understand why the fine conductor Gerard Schwartz championed his music, something that Diamond lived long enough to see happen.  Not every composer gets to experience that.

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