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  • Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged the Literary Cold War by Duncan White
  • Joshua Rubenstein
Duncan White, Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged the Literary Cold War. New York: Custom House, 2019. 782 pp. $32.50.

In March 1949 a large group of U.S. fellow travelers, some of whom were outright apologists for Stalinism, organized the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace at the opulent Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. The Waldorf Conference—the name by which it is remembered—had been initiated by the Communist Information Bureau in Moscow as part of the Soviet Union's long-term strategy to enlist credulous, ill-informed, duplicitous, or well-meaning Western intellectuals in its campaigns against fascism (in the 1930s) and later against nuclear weapons. "By the time the Cold War began in the late 1949s," Duncan White observes, "the Soviet Union's leaders were already old hands at cultural warfare" (p. 3). Anxious to voice their concern over the use of nuclear weapons, prominent intellectuals in the United States like Leonard Bernstein, Albert Einstein, and Frank Lloyd Wright lent their names as sponsors. Still others, including Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Howard Fast, "and the celebrity Stalinist couple Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett" (p. 248), actually attended.

But because the conference was held in New York, the organizers could not exert full control, either over the anti-Communist protesters on the street or over other cultural luminaries who were determined to raise uncomfortable questions during the proceedings. As Duncan White vividly recalls in Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged the Literary Cold War, Mary McCarthy, Dwight McDonald, Sidney Hook, and Robert Lowell, among others, brought umbrellas "to rap against the floor if they were denied the chance to speak." Schooled during the heated conflicts between followers of Leon Trotsky and Iosif Stalin and the meaning of the infamous Moscow Purge trials of the 1930s, they were sensitive to "the hypocrisy of the conference. while back in the Soviet Union a whole generation of authors had 'disappeared' or been silenced" (p. 250). By standing up for cultural freedom, "they were laying the bedrock for Western cultural warfare on the Soviet Union" (p. 257).

Tracing the political trajectory of some of the most famous participants in the Waldorf Conference helps us understand the politics of anti-Stalinism. The most prominent Soviet participant was the head of the Writers' Union, Aleksandr Fadeev, who had himself signed arrest orders for many Soviet writers. He dutifully parroted lies about the fate of writers when he was asked in private about them a year later [End Page 248] by Howard Fast, an avowed member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), who was concerned about the whereabouts of several Yiddish writers in Moscow. (We know now they were being interrogated and tortured in Moscow's Lubyanka Prison and were then secretly executed in 1952.) Seven years after the Waldorf Conference, in the wake of Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin at the Twentieth Soviet Party Congress, Fadeev committed suicide. Boris Pasternak construed the suicide as a gesture of repentance. Khrushchev's speech in February 1956, followed by the brutal Soviet invasion of Hungary in October, compelled Fast to break with the CPUSA, and "the story of Fast's defection. was considered momentous enough to earn its place on the front page of the New York Times" (p. 293). Although Miller remained associated with leftwing causes, he and many others had reached a point of sufficient disillusion by the 1960s that they signed appeals for imprisoned Soviet writers and in defense of the Prague Spring. Mary McCarthy remained true to her anti-Stalinist commitment, but this did not prevent her from falling into the trap of "adulatory, at times credulous" (p. 562) reporting during her trip to North Vietnam in March 1968. McCarthy described the streets of Hanoi as "pristine" and wrote "rapturously about the schools, workshops, and makeshift hospitals she found in the countryside" (p. 563). She vividly described the Museum of War Crimes exhibits that featured the consequences of U.S. bombing campaigns over Hanoi and the countryside, and she was allowed to meet with downed U.S. pilots whose demeanor upset her. She mistook...


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pp. 248-250
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