- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

Georges Clemenceau, the French statesman, is reputed to have said: "He who is not a socialist at age 20 has no heart; he who is still a socialist at 40 has no head."
Partisan Review, which after an almost 70-year publishing history as a quarterly has just closed its doors forever, exemplified the French statesman's observation. PR started out in 1934 as the "literary" organ of a wholly owned subsidiary of the Communist Party, the John Reed Club, located in Greenwich Village.
In its opening statement, Partisan Review declared that its "definite viewpoint" would be "that of the revolutionary working class." Its young co-founders and editors , the genial and witty William Phillips and the uncongenial and domineering Philip Rahv, promised to publish works of what was then called "proletarian literature," one of Moscow's more seductive oxymorons.
As would-be revolutionaries (both died some years ago, Rahv in 1972, Phillips in September 2002 at age 94) they even helped organize one of the most successful communist fronts in the party's history, the League of American Writers.
The League, in fact, was so successful in its recruitment that an unwitting Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted honorary membership in the League. The president resigned when Sidney Hook, a later member of the PR editorial board, pointed out to the White House that FDR's name was being exploited by the Communist Party that was at that moment supporting the Nazi-Soviet Pact. (The correspondence is to be found in the FDR Library in Hyde Park).
Breaking with the Communist Party and the party line on culture was not as difficult as breaking with socialism, for as Phillips wrote in 1984: "When we reappeared [in 1937] as an independent, Left literary and cultural review, we still avowed an allegiance to a radical movement and to the basic direction of Marxist thinking." A belief in Marxian socialism was and still is an indomitable characteristic of many intellectuals worldwide. As the AEI's Joshua Muravchik has written: "Much of the history of the last two centuries has revolved around the pursuit of a single idea socialism."
PR needed funds for revival. It found financial support from private contributions and thus began a long career in literary criticism and literary journalism. PR formed "the core of a literary-intellectual opposition to the Communist Party," as John Earl Haynes has written. PR brought to its pages George Orwell, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Saul Bellow, Norman Podhoretz, James Baldwin, Mary McCarthy, James Farrell, Dwight Macdonald, Wallace Stevens, Bernard Malamud, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler, Robert Penn Warren, Edmund Wilson, Hannah Arendt the list is endless.
Novelists, political essayists and poets considered it an honor to be seen in the pages of Partisan Review, the undisputed champion of high culture and an ally in the intellectual resistance to communism and in later years to the adversary culture.
PR realized early on, as Irving Kristol wrote in another context: "Our problem is not really political at all. It is cultural in the largest sense of that term."
The magazine's remarkable achievement was that it became a major influence in the creation of literary standards while upholding, even venerating, the classical tradition. It uncovered writing talents that had no voice elsewhere.
There are other magazines Commentary, National Interest, New Criterion, Dissent, Public Interest, Weekly Standard that like PR have an influence far greater than their small circulations would indicate, thanks to a process which Steven Marcus, one of its editors, called "percolation downward." (At last count, PR's circulation was some 3,200; it never exceeded 13,000 at its heyday).
The New York Times obituary on Phillips said the "writers drawn to Partisan Review formed a discernible world that some compared to an American Bloomsbury." This was the world of the New York intellectuals, many of them descendants of Russian-Jewish immigrants, who to their everlasting credit led in the long and finally victorious battle against the Soviet Union.
While PR believed in giving great latitude to its writers, it occasionally published articles that violated its high standards. One such article by Tom Hayden, published in 1966, said: "Perhaps the only forms of action appropriate to the angry people are violent. Perhaps a small minority, by setting ablaze New York and Washington, could damage this country forever in the court of public opinion."
Another article PR ran 40 years ago contained a paragraph that will forever stain its editorial judgment. The passage appeared in a contribution by Susan Sontag in the winter 1967 issue, page 52. It was her answer to the PR symposium, "What's happening to America?" Wrote Miss Sontag: "The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone its ideologies and inventions which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads."
To have allowed such a racist Farrakhanesque paragraph to appear in a magazine of high cultural standards indicates an unforgettable intellectual lapse that, fortunately, was rare in PR's history.

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