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64 the minnesota review Joseph R. Urgo Proletarian Literature and Feminism: The Gastonia Novels and Feminist Protest Introduction: Proletarian Literature and Women's Issues In 1934 Granville Hicks, literary editor of the New Masses, wrote a sevenpart series for thatjournal entitled "Revolution and the Novel" in which he outlined , often pedagogically, how a writer with proletarian sympathies might go about writing a revolutionary novel. In his opening article, Hicks assured young novelists that their art form "is to have a prominent part in the literature ofthe transition period" between capitalism and the classless society.' Subsequent articles concerned individualism and collectivism in the novel, the dramatic and biographical formula, characterization possibilities, selection of plots and settings , the issue of documentation and authenticity, and, finally, an optimistic concluding article urging novelists to keep at it. "All I want to do," Hicks claimed, "is to indicate the variety ofmethods" open to young writers.2 Hicks affirmed the place ofproletarian literature as "an indispensible instrument for intensifying and organizing the vague impulses toward rebellion that are the foundation ofthe revolutionary state ofmind."3 The early 1930's was characterized by a confidence among Leftist writers that the revolution would not be long in coming. All intellectual activity, then, had to be turned toward preparing for and maintaining the inspiration necessary to carry out the final conflict. All other concerns, for instance, the "woman question ," were either consciously or unconsciously made subordinate to the seemingly greater and more imminent struggle between American economic classes. Characteristically, then, Hicks' seven-part series does not address the possibilities ofredefining or even criticizing sex-role stereotyping in fiction, or the potentiality ofrevolutionary literature to contribute to women's liberation. The low priority given women's issues among American Leftists in the 1930's is the subject of a recent article about the Communist Party.4 Robert Shaffer cites the "lack ofan independent mass woman's movement, and the seemingly overriding nature ofthe economic crisis and the fight against fascism" as contributing factors to the low degree of women's activism in the thirties.5 "The Party's major goal," Shaffer writes, "was always to have women fighting 'side by side' or 'shoulder to shoulder' with men against capitalism."6 Despite the subordination of feminism to other issues in the Communist Party, however, women did find in the Party structures that encouraged their activism in the class struggle and which more than occasionally allowed feminist concerns to be articulated. Allowing for "its important weaknesses," Shaffer concludes, "the CP's work among women in the 1930's was sufficiently ex- urgo 65 tensive, consistent, and theoretically valuable to be considered an important part ofthe struggle for women's liberation in the United States."7 Feminist issues were not among the Communist Party's primary concerns in the 1930's, but they were nevertheless on the agenda. Given the absence of an autonomous women's organization in that period, moreover, the presence ofan identifiable women's faction within the CP's structure becomes historically significant. Shaffer's article suggests that in order to understand women's history in the Left in the 1930's, historians must look for evidence of feminist activism within structures which admittedly gave women's issues low priority. Although the Communist Party "did not adequately recognize the importance or difficulty of achieving women's liberation," it did address women's concerns when women raised them.8 Ofcourse, some ofthe ways in which feminist concerns were addressed in the Communist Party in the 1930's may, in 1984, seem regressive. However, as Shaffer further concludes, this is more a function of the lack of organization among feminists: a consciousness of liberation does not arise fully coherent and in a neat package, but in partial and even contradictory ways. An analysis of the CP's policies on women must always be grounded in the perception of those policies by the women in volved. We cannot ignore as duped, or misled , those many women who have written that they gained increased awareness oftheir potentialities as women through participation in the CP. Neither can we forget those who complained ofthe CP's apparent unconcern for their particular problems ofhousework and child care...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 64-84
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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