Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. i-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-xii

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xviii

Nearly 35 years ago I appealed for a substantial re-reading of much of Earle Birney’s prose and poetry of the 1940s and 1950s, in light of his lengthy association with the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.1 Birney, after all, was perhaps Canada’s best twentieth-century poet writing in...

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Acknowledgements

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pp. xix-xx

I am grateful to the staff of many libraries and archives in Canada, the United States and England, notably those of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto; the Houghton Library, Harvard University; the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Elmer Holmes Bobst...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-62

Dr. Alfred Earle Birney would become one of Canada’s most distinguished men of letters, full of honours when he died at the age of 91 in 1995: an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, awarded the Royal Society’s Lorne Pierce Medal for literary accomplishment...

I. An “optimistic sort of revolutionary” 1933–1935

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1. Report to the Toronto Branch of the International Left Opposition

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pp. 65-78

1. I have to report that on Wednesday, September 13th, the summer activities of Comrade Sylvia Johnstone and myself culminated in the establishment of a nucleus for the Left-Opposition in Vancouver. On that date we took formally into the organization two comrades, Dave Olsen and Jim Sheridan, and constituted...

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2. Letter to an American Medical Student

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pp. 79-84

Let me deal with the discussion part of your letter seriatim, as we scholars say (a little trick to avoid the labor of really organizing my answer). First I have a series of agreements with you. (1) Revolutionaries too often become doctrinaire. (2) The end only should be fixed, the means open to infinite change, suiting the...

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3. Mine Strike, Martial Law and a Student Delegation

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pp. 85-92

When “Sparks” decided to see for itself, the Sheltered Life turned strained and hectic. “Sparks” is the club devoted to the study of contemporary problems formed by seven undergraduates in the University of Utah this semester. In mid-November we held our first open meeting; our faculty sponsor spoke on...

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4. To the Section Bureau, CPUSA, Salt Lake City, Utah

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pp. 93-96

The letter sent by the six comrades, David Brown,2 Reinold Smith, G. Greenberg, Lizbeth Lawrence, L.E. Harnden and Lela Grant, did not attempt in any way to “cover up the treachery of the German Social Democracy”. Our letter explicitly stated “that the failure to establish a united front of the...

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5. To the Salt Lake Section Committee, CPUSA

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pp. 97-104

We were asked to read this article in order to discover the error of our own position on the tactics of the CPG before March 1933.2 We have decided, from our own readings in Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, and what other information we possess on Germany, that the article in question does not represent correct communist...

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6. A Letter Refused by the Salt Lake City Press

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pp. 105-106

Perhaps someone ought to break the news to the Rotary Club that Czarism was overthrown in Russia back in ’17. The news may be a bit upsetting to an organization so promiscuously devoted to cheer-leading for capitalism. The Rotarians may be feeling a little unwell, as it is, after listening to those attacks...

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7. In Defence of Party Democracy

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pp. 107-114

Comrades Patterson of Clapham, Kirby and Robertson of Holborn, have been suspended from the Party.1 The Marxist Group entirely associates itself with the statement issued by these comrades and reproduced below and urges its circulation amongst I.L.P.’ers urging them to take the indicated action immediately, in...

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8. The Struggle Against British Imperialism

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pp. 115-122

The British Empire is the most gigantic of the political units which have been produced by the capitalist system in its final development.
As the means of production advance, they must, under a competitive profit system, pass into fewer and fewer hands, until small, immensely powerful rings...

II. Conversations with Trotsky 1935

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9. Birney to Trotsky

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pp. 125-128

Another Canadian cde. and I find it possible to pay a short visit to Norway within the next month if it is possible to arrange a short talk with you. We realize that your health, safety, and time demand that such a visit should be mutually valuable if it is to take place at all. We are therefore proposing some definite...

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10. Interviewing Leon Trotsky

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pp. 129-134

1. that in the autumn of 1935 I was resident at No. One Ampton Street, London W.C. 1, England, and engaged in research at the British Museum in connection with a doctoral thesis in mediaeval literature which was later accepted for the Ph. D. at the University of Toronto.
2. that in November of that year I took a...

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11. Conversations with Trotsky

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pp. 135-150

Being recently in Norway, I availed myself of the opportunity which Cde. C. A. Smith once utilised, of securing an interview with Leon Trotsky.1 The following is an attempt to epitomise some of his conversation as it might bear upon the policies and perspectives of the I.L.P. My questions were based upon the...

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12. Further Conversations with Trotsky

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pp. 151-158

Mainly. Compare the Dutch fusion.3 There any focussing upon “discussion” immediately after the merger would have only split the party again. It was necessary there and in America, to concentrate on practical mass work and on discussion of the problems arising directly from that work. It was the sectarian...

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13. Trotsky on the Canadian Farmer

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pp. 159-162

Two Canadian comrades, at present abroad, recently had the good fortune to visit Comrade Trotsky. They send the following condensation of some of Trotsky’s comments as they bear on the problems of the Canadian and world revolution.
Com. T. informed our comrades that he reads with the greatest attention and...

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14. Birney to Trotsky

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pp. 163-166

I enclose copies of the final drafts of most of the material arising out of the interviews Cde. Johnstone & I had with you. Copies are being sent to-day also to Canada, & USA, & to the IS, with covering letters of explanation, and directions as to which material is for information only, and which for use. The delay...

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15. Birney to Trotsky

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pp. 167-168

Discussion on your proposals is now proceeding in branch fractions. A general meeting is to be held in a week. In the meantime I will not venture any guesses as to what the MG will decide. Factional quarrelling seems to have subsided somewhat here, though not in Liverpool. The London MG is now functioning...

III. Political Writings: 1935–1939

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16. Incident in Berlin

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pp. 171-176

I am one of the two Canadians who were attacked in a Berlin street just a few days ago for not saluting a Nazi flag. Some of the details have already appeared in the Capitalist Press.1
We were attacked without warning by paid thugs of the Nazi Party who had been specially detailed to follow an S.S. parade through the workers...

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17. Trotsky to Birney

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pp. 177-178

Notre cam. Schmidt va pour quelque temps en Angleterre où il veut se rencontrer non seulement avec les éléments dirigeants de l’ILP, mais aussi avec les camarades de notre tendance.1 Il a les adresses nécessaire.
Vous savez que le cam. Schmidt est un camarade dirigeant du parti hollandais, mais qu’il...

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18. Birney to Trotsky

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pp. 179-190

Following your suggestion in your letter to me of Jan. 19th, I am writing to give you some impressions of the visit of cde. S. who has just left.1 Since the issues involved concern the whole development and perspectives of the B-Ls in this country, you will forgive me if I am somewhat lengthy. I am leaving in a few weeks for...

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19. Birney to Trotsky

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pp. 191-192

I write in haste, as I sail for New York in a few hours. I hope that you received my letter of Feb. 14th. I enclose (on the reverse of this sheet), as a supplement to it, a copy of a resolution which I presented for discussion to the MG at a London membership meeting last week. The resolution received the support of one comrade...

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20. Birney to Trotsky

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pp. 193-194

Warmest welcome to you and to Natalia Ivanovna on your safe arrival in this continent. You may remember that last winter I visited you in Norway, when I was a member of the English Marxist Group. I returned to Canada some time ago. At present I am engaged, amongst other things, in helping to organize a Canadian...

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21. Another Month—January

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pp. 195-198

A quarter-million Canadians still suffering from prairie drought famine are discovered by editors . . . Canadian wheat soars beyond $1.20 as England, Germany jockey to corner grain before the next Atlantic Blockade . . . Hitler sig[n]s for three million tons and pushes trade agreements to make Canada buy German...

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22. Another Month—February

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pp. 199-202

Vancouver, which last summer imported London’s Lord Mayor for $8,500, this winter deports 600 workless to the east, presents others to B.C. farmers for $5 a month, and confesses that its university co-eds spend an average of $6.70 monthly on cosmetics.
Ex-Comrade Chiang Kai-Shek, who once exchanged...

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23. Another Month—March

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pp. 203-204

Extra tons of woodpulp are devoted to chronicling the drownings of four hundred people and the ruin of a million Ohio Valley homes while insurance firms use act of God clauses to dodge compensation . . . Many refugees eat better from relief rations than ever before.
Chief cause of flood, and of the twenty-times greater...

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24. Birney to Joe Hansen

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pp. 205-210

What I want even more is an article from L.T. In April of this year I got the consent of the editorial board of the Canadian Forum to write L.T. asking him if he would contribute a short article on any subject, without pay. (We don’t pay anyone, and are in debt anyway). I don’t think L.T. ever got the letter. At that time his...

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25. Trotsky to Birney

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pp. 211-212

You ask me to write an article for the Canadian Forum. I would, naturally, do it if it could be useful to the movement. But your whole letter shows me that it would be only prejudiciable. The disappearance of our section in Canada is a lamentable fact. The success of the Fieldites shows that the cause of this disappearance...

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26. Birney to Trotsky

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pp. 213-216

Thank you for your note of Nov. 27th. I agree with your attitude to the Canadian Forum, and your remarks about the causes for the lapse of work in Canada. I have mentioned what extra information I have about prospects here, in my letter to Joe. I am hoping that some of our younger cdes in the CCF will have a change...

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27. Canadian Capitalism and the Strategy of the Revolutionary Movement

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pp. 217-234

1. Canada furnishes unique examples of uneven development. These are the results of its historical growth from a backward colony of French feudal commercialism which was conquered by British imperialism, and developed by it and by competing American Imperialism into a semi-independent State with an almost...

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28. The Land of the Maple Leaf Is the Land of Monopoly: Canada and World Politics

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pp. 235-248

The American press has maintained a picture of Canada as a vague snowy area to the north, sparsely populated by French-Canadian loggers, half-breed trappers, backward farmers, mounties, the Dionne quintuplets, and a few English colonials who, because of an unaccountable allegiance to King George, have...

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29. Is French Canada Going Fascist?

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pp. 249-260

At a pow-wow in Kingston, Ontario, on July 12, an assortment of self-confessed Canadian fascists announced their fusion into a “National Unity Party” and for their Big Chief picked Adrien Arcand, henchman of Premier Duplessis of Quebec.1 The unification ceremonies were punctuated by war-whoops so dreadful...

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30. Trotsky to Birney

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pp. 261-262

Through Joe Hansen you asked that I send you an article immediately on the Ukrainian question. I sent the article as quickly as was possible for me, but since then I have heard nothing about the matter.1
Has the article been transmitted to the Ukranian people? Has it been translated? What is the reaction...

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31. Birney to Trotsky

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pp. 263-266

I enclose a letter to you from T. Kobzey, of Winnipeg, Man., forwarded to us from our Winnipeg organizer, Carl Hichin.1 Kobzey is the key-man in our present negotiations with the “Lobay” Ukrainian organization.2 He was formerly National Secretary of the U.L.F.T.A. (Stalinist Ukrainian organization in Canada)...

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32. War Is Here—What Now?

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pp. 267-272

Stalinist worker—or rather ex-Stalinist worker, for we do not believe there is a worker left in Canada who has faith now in Stalin and the murderous machine he has made out of the once glorious Third International. What are you going to do?
You remained loyal to Tim Buck and Moscow because you thought they were...

IV. Literature and Revolution 1934–1940

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33. Escape by Emetic

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pp. 275-278

Once again the moribund body of the existing order has been slashed wide open and all the abscessed interior displayed.1 The surgeon this time happens to be an actual Paris medico; but in art as, apparently in life, he is no great healer. Because no Frenchman has been so frank and realistic since Rabelais, because...

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34. On “Proletarian Literature”

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pp. 279-282

If I were a day-worker again or an unemployed man, with some time free to read the things I wanted to read, I would try to save at least one reading session a week to novels, plays and poetry which were trying to present or represent the problems and hopes and struggles and sufferings of my own people...

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35. The Brave New Words of Aldous Huxley

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pp. 283-284

If Mr. Huxley had never written a novel we should still know of him as one of the very few accomplished essayists living in England today.1 This, his seventh collection, is as good as, if no better than, the others. It is true that some of the shorter pieces might easily have been omitted. His attack on college instructors...

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36. Cecil Day Lewis, The Loving Communist

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pp. 285-286

If you have pigeon-holed C. Day Lewis among the English metaphysical reds, seducing Marx into sprung rhythm and dark ingenious metaphor, you will be properly surprised by the simple charm of this, his first acknowledged novel.1 (He has published three detective potboilers under the name of Nicholas Blake)...

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37. Proletarian Literature: Theory and Practice

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pp. 287-292

Ralph Fox and Tom Wintringham, co-founders of the left review, are names now to be added to the list of British left-wing writers who have been killed fighting for the Spanish government.1 All who strive against capitalism must, irrespective of party and creed, deeply regret their deaths. It is therefore not easy to...

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38. What Do Canadians Tell Stories About?

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pp. 293-296

The fact that fifty Canadian writers from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island, submitted sixty-five stories for the “Canadian Forum” prize, is in itself perhaps a sufficient justification for the contest. A truly national competition has been created. Although Ontario and Toronto accounted for half the entries, each province was...

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39. R.M. Fox: Worker–Fighter

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pp. 297-298

Without any blowing of trumpets, Richard Fox has written a very compelling personal record.1 His good plain prose does not, perhaps, make the most of his experience but it is in harmony with the sturdy honesty of the man. “Smoky Crusade” is the autobiography of a worker-fighter, who begins adult life at the...

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40. Soviet Fiction and American Fustian

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pp. 299-300

Here are two very different novels by two associates of the Third International[.]1 Kataev is particularly known for a frolicky novel about minor Soviet bureaucrats, “The Embezzlers,” and an am[u]sing farce “Squaring the Circle”, which after the usual thousands of performances in Russia, made Broadway in a specially...

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41. The Importance of Being Ernest Hemingway

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pp. 301-304

“Listen,” I said.1 “I like you. You got conjones. But some of these critics say you’re just another dumb stooge for Ernie.
“Who?” he said, looking big. He was big.
“The guys in New York who get paid for writing about Ernest”, I said.
“Shut up”, he said. We stood up on the deck and he took a drink...

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42. Polygamous Communists from Toronto to Salt Lake

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pp. 305-306

In Toronto, exactly one hundred years ago, a big muffin-jowled young American stood stunned at a collection of several hundred dollars which Torontonians, pious even then, had offered him the end of his sermon.1 The man was Parley P. Pratt, one of the original Twelve Apostles of Joseph Smith, his sermon was...

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43. Yorkshire Proletarians

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pp. 307-308

England’s “most talked-of proletarian novel” of the year is not much more proletarian than Dicken[s’] “Great Expectations”, to which it bears certain minor plot resemblances, but it is nevertheless a dramatic and arousing first novel.1 The chief setting is a Yorkshire village of factory workers. The time is the vague present...

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44. The Rhymes of the Irish Revolution

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pp. 309-310

This is a collection of some fourscore “songs of the struggle in Ireland” accompanied by a preface and notes on contemporary Irish verse, and by two striking woodcuts, the work of Henry Kernoff; the dedication, and the opening poem, are appropriately directed to Tom Mooney.1
In the main the volume is of more value as...

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45. The Lost Irish Lenin?

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pp. 311-314

This is a new and eloquent biography of the most vivid personality among the dead Irish revolutionaries, Michael Collins.1 Though not written with the same clarity and poise which distinguished its author’s fine book of short stories, “Guests of the Nation,” it carries the reader along by a strange alternation of zest...

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46. Onward with Edward Upward

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pp. 315-316

Edward Upward is a young English prose writer who deserves be more widely known.1 For several years he has been contributing, to the struggling periodicals of the British Literary Left, short stories which are probably the only good prose allegories produced in England since Samuel Butler. “Journey to the Border” is...

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47. The Two William Faulkners

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pp. 317-320

Two writers have been struggling with each other for a long time inside the skin of William Faulkner.1 One of them is a stylized and morbid mystic attempting a sequence of novels on the scale of an epic. The other, the less publicized but more authentic author, is a sharp and brilliant narrator of short stories. The...

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48. John Bull’s Other Hell

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pp. 321-324

O’Flaherty’s latest and finest book is a novel which puts flesh once more around some of the grimmest bones in the history of British imperialism.1 In 1845 a famine wiped out 729,000 of the 8 million inhabitants of Ireland and drove hundreds of thousands overseas. The superficial cause was a sudden and mysterious blight...

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49. The English Worker

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pp. 325-328

Seven English workingmen, some with writing ability, have here deferred the temptation to make romantic “proletarian novels” out of their work-life and simply recorded the daily grind and their feelings about it.1 Behind them is the inevitable editor who has selected the authors and the material confessedly to...

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50. New Writing in Britain and Elsewhere

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pp. 329-330

Three years ago the English publishing world had a new idea; the Hogarth Press began publication of a literary periodical bound and printed like a book.1 Edited by the wide-awake John Lehmann and backed by such rising literary pinks as Auden and Spender, this semi-annual has acquired a certain deserved fame...

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51. The Fiction of James T. Farrell

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pp. 331-338

Less than seven years ago the Vanguard Press, tiptoeing in fear of anti-vice squads, offered the first novel of James T. Farrell in a sombre textbook get-out labelled “for physicians, psychiatrists, teachers, and social workers only.”1 Now “Young Lonigan” and its two sequels have been canonized as a Modern Library...

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52. The New Byronism: Poets and the Spanish Civil War

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pp. 339-340

The death struggle of the Spanish masses against international fascism has quickened new poets and old.1 For some, like Cornford and Lorca, it was a lightning before death by Franco’s bullets.2 For others, like Auden and other highly cerebral anti-fascist writers of England who went to Spain as observers rather...

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53. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath

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pp. 341-342

This is a must book.1 It is not only the novel by which Steinbeck steps from the fashionable second-raters to the front ranks of living American fictionists. It is not only a work of concentrated observation, folk humor, and dramatic imagination playing over the whole American continent. It is, more importantly...

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54. The Left Theatre in English

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pp. 343-344

Most Canadians have little chance to see the best plays of our own day acted, and even our libraries find it difficult to stock them adequately in written form.1 This is a pity, because much of the most effective emotional propaganda for a socialist order has found its outlet in the contemporary American drama. Mr. Kozlenko’s...

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55. Whitewashing the Stalinist Persecutors of Artists

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pp. 345-346

Mrs. Block, play reader for the Theatre Guild, dramatic critic and lecturer, has here done several things worth doing.1 First, from the rubbish of the theatre since 1880, she has sifted out some fifty plays and reminded us of their historical importance and their literary value. Second, she has summarized and discussed...

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56. The Mad Sanity of Henry Miller

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pp. 347-348

With this book Henry Miller makes his legal entry into American literature.1 Several years ago he slipped in as a scofflaw with a novel, “Tropic of Cancer,” published in Paris and forbidden import into the United States. Partly because of its brilliance of style and thought, partly because of its obscenity, (cheerfully...

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57. To Arms with Canadian Poetry

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pp. 349-354

Now that we have collected the more obvious enemy aliens behind barbed wire, clapped the soapboxers and the anti-war pamphleteers in jail, and threatened the pacifist parsons with the same medicine, is it not high time we turned our attention to the poets?1 The body of our loyal citizenry, pre-occupied with the new...

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58. Fashion and Change on Broadway, or Propaganda Is What You Disagree With

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pp. 355-356

By the time a book can appear on the plays of today many of them have become the plays of yesterday.1 Mr. O’Hara and his publishers have worked so speedily, however, that such a recent production as “Kiss the Boys Goodbye,” which has just finished its Toronto run, is among the two dozen or more which the author...

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59. New Writing and Literary Stalinism

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pp. 357-358

Twice a year for four years John Lehmann and his collaborators have issued a six-shilling miscellany of “New Writing,” a super-periodical bound like a book, illustrated with photographs, and containing stories, poems and essays by the fashionable English literary left and translations of kindred work from the continent...

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60. Erika Mann and the Middle-Class Martyrs of Fascism

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pp. 359-360

The intention of this latest book by Thomas Mann’s daughter is given most succinctly in the author’s words: “(To tell) true stories of a truly average character that happened to perfectly average (German) people who were neither particularly powerful nor particularly heroic, neither especially miserable nor especially...

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61. Literary Stalinism: Lehmann vs. Birney

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pp. 361-364

John Lehmann of Hogarth Press and editor of “New Writing” takes issue with one of our book reviewers: “I have read with great interest the long notice of the Christmas 1939 number of ‘New Writing’ in your issue for March, but I should like to suggest to the reviewer, Mr. Earle Birney, that he is presenting an entirely...

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62. Changing Minds in Wartime

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pp. 365-366

Mr. Lehmann has agreeably surprised both himself and the readers of his semi- annual anthology of modern British literature by producing another volume in the midst of the war, after having announced the probable death of the venture last Christmas.1 Naturally the resurrection is less full-bodied than the...

V. Envoi 1940

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63. In Memory: Lev Davidovich Bronstein

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pp. 369-374

The first time that Leon Trotsky meant more to me than the name of a Russian Bolshevik leader, was in 1932. Not until that year did I acquire sufficient intelligence to begin reading the liter[a]ture of Marxism for myself. I think the first work of Trotsky’s that came to my hand was “What next for Germany”.1 In it for...

Acronyms and Abbreviations

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pp. 375-378

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Textual Sources

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pp. 379-396

The documents in this volume exist in many versions and in several collections, both public and private. In all cases my editorial aim has been straightforward: to attempt to present each item as it embodies Earle Birney’s final intentions. That is, for published material I have gone to the original...

Works Cited

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pp. 397-408

Index

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pp. 409-420