Trinity of Passion: The Literary Left and the Antifascist Crusade
By Alan M. Wald
University of North Carolina Press: 344 pp.; $34.95
A new book settles a long-standing controversy surrounding the Communist Party membership of playwright Arthur Miller. In Trinity of Passion, a study of America’s literary Left, author Alan Wald has uncovered that Miller, while a Party member in 1945-46, wrote theatrical columns under the goyish pseudonym of Matt Wayne. Liberal obtiuarists detailing Miller's life have failed to mention this stint with the Party press and have instead asserted, a bit too strenuously, that the playwright was hardly a communist or even a socialist. Rather, he was a liberal causality of the McCarthy era. Wald, a professor of American culture at the University of Michigan, sets the record straight.
More may be at stake here than Miller’s status as a martyr of the Left. As Matt Wayne, Miller wrote several articles in the relatively liberalizing period for the Party advocating the then-chic possibility of artistic freedom and objective searches for truth rather than political correctness. Miller/Wayne's article, with its emphasis on the truth of character rather than the Stalinist line of the importance of theme, anticipated Albert Maltz's infamous essay a year later that criticized Marxism as an artistic straitjacket.
When word arrived from Moscow that such expressions were politically suspect, Maltz recanted. Wayne, too, dropped off the cultural radar, replaced by Miller, who appeared in the Party press full of righteous anger at American anti-Semitism but remained strangely silent on such matters as artistic freedom.
Wayne never really re-asserted himself as the artistic conscience of Miller, especially during his days writing the Crucible. A close reading of the play reveals that theme--witchhunts are motivated by lust and greed and result in innocent lives destroyed--won out of over character. A truly objective search for the truth and an emphasis on character over theme would have forced Miller to assert that the teenage girls did start the play practicing witchcraft in the woods (and in a manner--naked, bloody, cavorting around a boiling pot--that were staple features of Black Mass celebrations of Satan). Taking his parallel to where logic, not ideology, led him would force Miller to admit that children turning in parents and adults was a feature of the Stalinist purge trials (with statues celebrating 14-year-old informers in some Ural villages) rather than the McCarthy period.
The silence about Miller's communist past may have less to do with providing fodder to the enemy than with an unwillingness to admit that Miller failed his alter ego Wayne on the test of artistic conscience. Trinity of Passion reveals that Communists occasionally did admit in print the value of objective truth -- that they did know better, and that they were aware that they were producing untruthful hackwork. Yet, for Arthur Miller, as for others on the Left who regarded their art as a form of political service, the truth was an inconvenience.
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