1938 · New York
Although it has been largely forgotten, for most of the 1930s Langston Hughes turned his attention to explicitly political poetry and the movement for "proletarian literature." During this time, Hughes set aside the Jazz and Blues poetry for which he is best known, and focused on poetry linking the reality of working class life in America, black and white, to the struggle for a universal worker's revolution. In the early 1930s, Hughes traveled extensively in the Soviet Union. Before the Cold War, a great many Americans supported the Soviet Union. American communists fervently believed in a global worker's revolution, and that the Soviet Union was merely the first harbinger of the coming of Communism. These views were not mainstream, per-say, but they were not unusual either. In 1938 the International Workers Order published a small volume of Hughes radical poetry, including poems such as Chant for May Day and Ballad of Lenin. In the late 1930s, Stalin's purges led many writers to distance themselves from the Communist Party. So called "fellow travelers" – leftist writers such as Hughes, Earnest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck who had linked socialist causes and a concern for ordinary Americans with a fervent anti-fascism – began to lose faith in Communist-affiliated organizations such as the League of American Writers. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 dealt the American left in the United States a blow from which it never recovered, being as twin pillars of socialist American politics had been support for the Soviet Union and Opposition to fascism, particularly in Spain and Germany. In the 1950s, Hughes testified before congress that he was not and never had been a member of the Communist Party, and attempted to distance himself from the Proletarian Literature he had written in the 1930s, both by refusing others the rights to reprint poems from the period, and by excluding all of his radical poetry from the 30s from the Selected Poems which he published in 1959. From the poem Ballad of Lenin, a lot of Hughes's proletarian poetry remains deeply relevant today. Reading Hughes's radical poetry, it is hard not to think about movements like the Arab Spring, or Occupy Wall Street, and more importantly, it is hard not see that while the cause of the Workers Revolution as advanced by the Soviet Union was a somewhere between a dead end and indistinguishable-from-facism, the problems which American communists saw in their society, and in a society which they were beginning to perceive as global, have not yet been addressed. And, for better or for worse, those on Park Avenue should probably still be worried that their fellow citizens over on the park bench are going to decide to move on over.
Spine rubbed, soiled, edge wear corners bumped. About a very good copy of a scarce item. (Inventory #: BOOKS005750)