- Never Forgetting the East Side:Michael Gold’s Jews Without Money
In the 23 January 1966 issue of The New York Times Book Review, the “In and Out of Books” section featured an announcement that Avon Book’s recent paperback reissue of Michael Gold’s 1930 novel Jews Without Money had omitted the “last dozen lines” from the book (Nichols 241):
A man on an East Side soap-box, one night, pro-claimed that out of the despair, melancholy and help-less rage of millions, a world movement had been bornto abolish poverty.I listened to him.O workers’ Revolution, you brought hope to me, alonely suicidal boy. You are the true Messiah. Youwill destroy the East Side when you come, and buildthere a garden for the human spirit.O Revolution, that forced me to think, to struggleand to liveO great Beginning!(Gold 309)1
Coming at the conclusion of Gold’s fictionalized autobiography about his impoverished adolescence in New York’s turn-of-the-century East Side, these concluding lines announce “Mikey Gold’s” revolutionary conversion following a futile job search. For Gold, an ardent radical of the Old Left who had worked to compose and promote criticism, journalism, and literature from a Marxist viewpoint throughout his career, these lines served as not only the resolution to his fictionalized autobiography but also a political signature.2
An unapologetic advocate of committed art, which he pitted against the “extreme subjectivism of the bourgeois artist,” Gold had notoriously dubbed Gertrude Stein a “literary idiot” (“Gertrude” 23), likened Ernest Hemingway’s stories to tabloid material (“Hemingway” 157), and publicly debated Georgia O’Keeffe over the social responsibilities of art (Drohojowska-Philp 317-18). Making it a regular habit of dismissing high modernism as sterile studio art, Gold, according to his biographer Michael Folsom, earned “abiding notoriety” for the “bitter wit and high dudgeon of his literary criticism and journalism” [End Page 30] (Introduction 7). His later denunciations of defecting and erstwhile fellow travelers would result in a nearly indelible reputation as party hatchetman, “whose perpetual sense of outrage,” to quote Alfred Kazin, “went flat in servility to the Communist Party line” (3). Despite frequently affronting his contemporary critics and writers, Gold’s politically provocative style found favor in the Depression-era United States.
Written over the course of successive Republican administrations and a backdrop of financial deregulation, Jews Without Money was published—only months after the 1929 stock market crash—to popular success and critical acclaim. The book’s strident message of social protest and revolutionary overtures spoke to a nation in economic crisis during the first peak of twentieth-century inequality. In the 1940s and 1950s, however, Jews Without Money lapsed into underground and subcultural circulation, following a national spike in anti-communist sentiment. Considering the novel’s relative obscurity throughout the post-World War II era, the Avon reprint seemed to have heralded a turn of fortune for a book that was virtually “erased” (Folsom, “Book” 242) during the McCarthy years. However, the omission of Gold’s original ending from the first Avon edition suggests that it was not the book’s revolutionary message that attracted the publisher. While Folsom dates Jews Without Money’s paperback reissue post-McCarthy, the second Red Scare had waned only to be replaced with new political theaters of containment in Cuba and Southeast Asia.
Considering the centrality of Gold’s political activism and Communist commitments to his professional career, Avon’s expurgated edition of Jews Without Money raises questions about the terms underwriting the book’s paperback reissue. Indeed, it is doubtful that tributary intentions of any kind were in play. This was not the type of critical rescue operation that Malcolm Cowley, for instance, had famously undertaken with The Portable Faulkner (1946). Although Gold had achieved a modicum of fame as the author of Jews Without Money and notoriety as a columnist for The Daily Worker and editor of The New Masses in the Depression era, his relatively small literary output (much of which was released in limited runs by leftist presses) and controversial polemics did little to secure literary posterity in either...