by Harvey Swados
Doubleday, 656 pp., $8.95
Standing Fast is a long, common-sensical chronicle of the lives of a score of American socialists over twenty-four years, from the Hitler-Stalin pact to the death of J.F. Kennedy. It could form the basis for several Stanley Kramer films, offering parts for performers like Henry Fonda, Arthur Kennedy, Eva-Marie Saint, Shelley Winters. The fighting and the sex are clean, moderate, reasonable.
The men are lean, handsome and active.
Where have you seen girls more attractive?
The political and social opinions are unexceptionable to middle-aged “radicals” on the liberal-socialist wave length. The author seems to be demonstrating, first, that you don’t (or, in those days, you didn’t) have to be freaky (still less, Stalinist) to be on the far left; second, that leftists should be careful not to neglect their own families in the interests of the wider community. A wholesome book, Charles Kingsley might say.
But, at any rate in the earlier chapters, it may seem too “reassuring,” in the way of the best seller. As Morris West reassures liberal Roman Catholics, and Harold Robbins reassures Harold Robbins readers, so perhaps Harvey Swados offers the same commodity to old-fashioned socialists. He refers to many large public problems but gets nowhere with them: optimistic speeches are made, meetings held, journals written. Each of the thirty-six chapters is a little drama, too brief to be conclusive, like a TV episode. In a way, the long book seems too short: each chapter is like the synopsis of a novel. The author may have chosen the wrong form. He has remarked that he would have liked to write it in a series of novels, as Anthony Powell and C.P. Snow have done, but American readers are not used to this.
He has also admitted that the beginning of the book is unsatisfactory, with too many characters. “You have to plow through meeting all these people.” True. Ten characters give their names to chapter headings, two of the most prominent being Norman Miller and Joe Link (with six chapters each), so that it’s a pity I kept getting these two confused in my mind. But both are professional writers, handsome, tough, and manly, who stride down Main Street, jackets swinging free, ready to address a street-corner meeting, the spring sun striking on their bared heads or through their thin pullovers. Both are attached to the “New Party”—which, Swados has stated, is loosely based on Max Schachtmann’s Socialist Workers’ Party. However that may be, they are broadly Trotskyite but not much inclined to accept instructions from Mexico or anywhere else.
When we first meet Norman he is making a speech, denouncing the Hitler-Stalin pact, and attracting the hero worship of two young students, Sy Glantzman and his girlfriend Bernie, both of them brought up among Communists. Norman’s personal distinction seems a bit overdone. The students, we are told, were
…smitten with him as a dashing figure, more glamorous than the Marxist logic-choppers with whom they had grown up …