Rebecca West on communism’s allure for the intellectuals: An appraisal

Peter BAEHR

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

Abstract

Feminist activist, novelist, literary critic, bio-ethnographer, legal autodidact, and political writer: Rebecca West (1892–1983) was a 20th-century phenomenon. She was also a lifelong critic of communism’s appeal to the intelligentsia. Communism, West claimed, was attractive to three groups of intellectuals outside the Soviet bloc: a minority of scientists who viewed politics as merely a sum of technical problems to solve; the emotionally devastated for whom communism was a means of mental reorientation; and a déclassé segment of the middle class who envisaged communism as a means of material and status advancement. I examine West’s three explanations for communism’s allure, and then proceed to evaluate her account. My assessment is both empirical, using sociological data on American and European communist parties, and methodological, examining the techniques of West’s style, a mix of novelistic empathy and unmasking political partisanship. This mixture I consider fatal because while the novel, like historical interpretation, allows a generous understanding of human agents, unmasking tends towards caricature and denunciation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number072551362110533
Number of pages18
JournalThesis Eleven
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Research for this article was funded by the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong. Project title: The Political Liberalism of Rebecca West. Project Code: LU 13600717.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.

Keywords

  • Rebecca West
  • communism
  • intellectuals
  • novelistic imagination
  • unmasking

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