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This article is taken from PN Review 9, Volume 6 Number 1, September - October 1979.

Edgell Rickword and the Left Review: Politics/Literature in the 1930s John Coombes

Conventional accounts of British literary Marxist and left-wing cultural politics in general in the 1930s tend to distinguish two tendencies-the first towards mechanism (the literary text seen as a simple reflection of social conditions), the second towards a renewal of individualist romanticism (the writer heroically identifying himself with the working-class struggle; Spender's belief that `the artist . . . will fight on the side of the workers . . . because his final goal is an unpolitical age, in which great works of art may be produced'). Indeed both perspectives are apparently warranted by Auden's Spain, with its juxtaposition of: 'Tomorrow for the young poets exploding like bombs' and 'Today . . . the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting'.

The work of Edgell Rickword as a materialistic critic-in his contributions to the Left Review throughout the period of its publication from 1934 to 1938, and in his capacity as editor (January 1936-June 1937)cprovides a salutary corrective to such critical simplicities. The years of the Left Review were also, of course, the years of the struggle to build a People's Front against fascism-a movement, moreover, aiming at the unity of the Left around a policy of social reform in which the journal played a leading part-and the obstacles to a coherent cultural politics of the Left in the Popular Front era were considerable. In the movement-with its tactical project of conciliation of liberal middle classes and proletariat-there came to co-exist ideologies as discrepant as the liberalism ...


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