during his enforced leisure time.nIt was by now the middle of the 30’snand the Jazz Age had long since madenway for what Eugene Lyons called thenRed Decade. The Depression and the risenof fascism had created in many Americannwriters a new social and political awarenessnthat was easily exploited by the smallnbut self-assured Communist Party.nWhen recounting his recruitment to thenParty in Germany, Arthur Koestlernrecalled that “the contrast between thendownward trend of capitalism and thensimultaneous steep rise of planned Sovietneconomy was so striking and obvious thatnit led to the equally obvious conclusion:nThey are the future—we, the past.”nLured by the future, Odets joined thenParty in 1934 and, equipped with anready-made ideology, set down in threennights the play for which he is still chieflynremembered: Waiting for Lefty. Basednon a New York tasfi-driver strike. Leftynwas a one-act “agitprop” piece designednto radicalize the audience. The play tevolvesnaround a handful of desperatendrivers who are convinced that they havenbeen sold out by their union leaders andnwho call upon the rank and file—thenaudience—to revolt. When news arrivesnthat Lefty, the leader of the insurgents,nhas been murdered, cries of “strike” ringnout first from the stage and then from thenaudience, the members of which experiencednwhat Malcolm Cowley recentlyndescribed as “a sense of release, a dreamnof brotherhood.”nOvernight, Odets became the literarynleft’s man of the hour, praised extravagantlynas an American Chekhov or SeannO’Casey. In his next play, Awake andnSing!, he was even more explicit aboutnhis communist sympathies, writing fornthe prophetical grandfather Jacob a celebrationnof Soviet Russia, where “they gotnMarx.” In this way he solidified a politicalnreputation that undermined his subsequentnwork and targeted him for a differentnkind of notoriety during then1950’s, when the House Un-AmericannActivities Committee was in its heyday.nAlthough he lived into the 1960’s,nOdets never repeated his early and stunningntheatrical triumphs. His biographerndelights in attributing this failure to hisnmercenary decision to write screenplaysnfor Hollywood, but the unhappy truth isnthat he, like most of those who crowd thenpages of Daniel Aaron’s excessively sympatheticnWriters of the Left, was always ansecond-rate writer. His short-lived successncan be accounted for by his ear fornNew Yorkjewish dialect and by contemporarynreceptivity to communist propaganda,nparticularly in New York wherenjournals of opinion such as The NewnRepublic, The New Masses, The Nationnand Partisan Review (then the organ ofnthe John Reed Clubs) were energeticallyndisseminating radical ideas. By the timenOdets left the Pany in 1933, his politicalninterest had already begun to flag, and itnquickly became evident that he hadnnothing more to say, a man with chronicnthird-act problems.nOnly at the end of the decade wasnOdets able to put his finger on what hadnCliche MannA certain Edward Asner, a second-ratenTV performer who specializes in clichentypology, has recently launched a campaignnto aid San Salvador’s communistnguerrillas. He is on record as saying aboutnnnLIBERAL CULTUREninitially attracted him to communism:nthe promise of the future. “Notice a curiousnfact,” he wrote in his notebooks,n”the American men have no past, nonpresent, only a future. They have nonmemory; the present irks them becausenall of the possibilities and expansions ofntheir lives are not in it; only the future donthey live for.” Civilization would notnflourish on this side of the Atlantic, henconcluded with some regret, until Americansnlearned to love the past. And fornonce he was right. Because the past isnconcrete and authentic in a way that thenfuture can never be, those who love itnsignal at the same time their love of mennas they are and have been. A literatureninformed by historical consciousness isnalways more profound and humane thannone with its creative eyes on the futurenand its idealized inhabitants. WhatnOdets does not say is that many of hisngreater contemporaries did revere thenpast; one has only to think of T.S. Eliot,nEzra Pound, William Faulkner, Allennthe predicament of the Salvadoreans:nI do not favor communism anywhere.nBut if they choose communism, so be it.nHere we are again: ignorance posing asncompassion and political fairness. Mr.nAsner’s stance will be promoted by thenliberal press, and it will wind up withnAmerican foreign policy being decided innthe streets by inebriated mobs of obscurantistnadolescents. Just like the 60’s. Thenfact that his line is an insult to basic intelligencenand knowledge, since there’s notnone speck of earth on which communismnhas been chosen by the people rathernthan imposed by the violent action of anwell-organized few—Russia included—nmeans nothing to the Asners of thenworld. They will forever defendnAmerica’s conscience with the pious approvalnof the pro-Bolsheviks in the pressnand in the spotlights of the ignoramusesnfrom the evening news. Dn^ M H ^ H UnMay/June J982n